The Global Initiative For Drug Policy Reform


Drug policy is failing. Countries must be given the option to experiment with new models of drug control.


Police-based approaches to drug policy have not improved the overall problems related to drug use. Alternatives must be explored, especially as evidence from countries that have experimented with new approaches shows that positive results can be achieved.


One major option that countries have experimented with is the decriminalisation of one or more drugs. Countries including Portugal and the Czech Republic have successfully experimented with this policy reform.

Pragmatism should override political affiliations or moral ideologies. This is very much evident in Portugal where, after decriminalisation, there has been “no serious political push [...] to return to a criminalisation framework.” [3] This is due to politicians embracing the scientific evidence that has been analysed over the past decade, leaving them “unanimous in their belief that decriminalisation has enabled a far more effective approach to managing Portugal’s [...] problems.” [3]

Considering the positive results that decriminalisation has achieved, it is a policy that political figures the world over must carefully consider.

The Closure of the ‘Needle Park’

During the 1980s, Switzerland had one of the largest populations of HIV infected drug users in Europe. Hundreds of addicts would gather at ‘Platzspitz’, a public park in the centre of Zurich to inject their drugs. Here a handful of social workers would give users clean needles, in an attempt to the curb the spread of HIV/AIDS. After the park’s closure in 1992, the government realised the importance of implementing proper, regulated harm reduction facilities.


This action wasn’t only self-beneficial for Switzerland, but the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) also credited the Swiss “with opening discussion of harm reduction programs in virtually all member states of the European Union.” [1] The EMCDDA particularly praised “the Swiss’ reliance on well-reviewed evidence and the practice of setting up pilot projects at [a] significant scale”, practices that “all countries might well emulate.” [1]

Portugal’s Decriminalisation

The Portuguese model (i.e. the removal of criminal sanctions for personal possession and the purchase of all narcotic drugs and the implementation of Commissions for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction) has become a vital case study for the examination of new drug models. If, as various reports have shown, evidence from Portuguese reforms show reductions in drug-related harms, problematic use and enabled the police to re-focus on tackling high level dealers and large quantities of drugs [2].

Despite these reform efforts, there is no universal model. For example, whilst Switzerland voted in favour of decriminalising heroin use, it voted against a more liberal cannabis approach[4]. No perfect, universal solution is available for all countries. As such, countries should be encouraged to experiment with reforms that they feel best suited to their individual circumstances.


[1] From The Mountaintops, What the World Can Learn from Drug Policy Change in Switzerland

[2] Aebi, M. F., Ribeaud D., Killias, M., (1999). ‘Prescription médicale de stupéfiants et délinquance. Résultats des essais Suisses. Criminologie, vol. 32, n.2.

[3] Greenwald, G., ‘Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies. Washington, DC: CATO Institute, 2009.

[4] ‘Swiss approve heroin scheme but vote down marijuana law’, The Guardian, 1 December 2008