World Health Organization Suggests Decriminalizing Personal Drug Use

By McCarton Ackerman 07/25/14

Following the WHO's suggestion could lead to a drastic drop in the rate of drug abuse, as shown by Portugal.

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Last Week, the World Health Organization subtly called for the decriminalization of personal drug use in a 159-page report that focused mainly on global HIV prevention and care.

The report called for countries to work towards developing policies and laws that ban compulsory treatment for people who use drugs, decriminalize injection and other drug use, as well as permitting the use of clean needles and syringes. The recommendations on drug policy were confirmed by Dr. Andrew ball, WHO’s senior advisor on strategy, policy and equity in their Department of HIV. However, the organization is not advocating for the legalization of drugs worldwide nor endorsing drug use in any form.

“The guidelines recommend decriminalization of a range of behaviors of key populations—not just drug use—on public health grounds, so as to improve access to and utilization of health services, to reduce the likelihood of the adoption of riskier behaviors and to reduce incarceration rates," said Ball.

Other world organizations have also called for decriminalizing personal drug use in recent years. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said earlier this year that “criminal sanctions are not beneficial” when addressing addiction. A 2009 discussion paper from the office also noted that “treatment, rehabilitation, social reintegration and aftercare should be considered as an alternative to criminal justice sanctions.” The U.N. General Assembly has also formed tentative plans for a special session to address the “world drug problem in 2016."

Portugal took the step of becoming the world’s first country to decriminalize all drugs in 2001, resulting in a drastic drop in drug abuse ever since. Other countries have used Portugal’s success as the catalyst to consider similar measures for some or all illicit drugs.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.