World Leaders Demand End to Criminalisation of People who Supply Drugs, Illicit Crop Growers

Members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP)

Members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy are aguing for a new approach to the decriminalisation of low-level drug offences.

In its latest report, the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) argues for a new approach to the decriminalisation of low-level drug offences, including an end to the criminalisation of those who supply drugs.

Advancing drug policy reform: a new approach to decriminalization, released today, is the sixth report from the GCDP, a collection of former heads of state, senior UN officials, intellectuals, and entrepreneurs.

Though the Commission has, since its 2011 inception, consistently called for the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use, Advancing drug policy reform marks a notable progression in this policy stance.

For example, unlike the majority of existing decriminalisation policies around the world where people who use drugs are still subject to fines or administrative penalties in lieu of a criminal record, the GCDP argues that no penalties should ever be handed down for the simple possession and/or use of drugs. “Only then,” the report states, “can the societal destruction caused by drug prohibition be properly mitigated” and the principles of human dignity and rule of law be firmly upheld.

More interestingly, the call for no punishment is extended to other low-level actors in the drug trade, including so-called user/dealers, drug couriers, and cultivators of illicit crops such as opium and coca leaf. Many of those who engage in these activities, the report notes, do so out of “economic marginalization … a lack of other opportunities … [or] coercion,” yet face severe punishment - including imprisonment, the death penalty, and the destruction of livelihoods through forced crop eradication.

Unlike with people caught in possession of drugs for personal use, however, the aforementioned low-level actors would be subject to civil penalties under the framework the GCDP proposes.

As TalkingDrugs has previously reported, analyses of drug markets often paint a simplistic picture of the “bad drug dealer” and the “innocent victim/user,” something which the GCDP is notable in challenging. For example, limited research into user/dealers – a term that refers to those who sell drugs in order to fund their own problematic use – has found this group of people to suffer acute economic marginalisation, and to engage in drug supply so as to avoid other criminal activity such as theft.

When it comes to drug couriers, a group commonly referred to as “mules,” the GCDP highlights how criminalising this group for a non-violent crime is unjust, particularly when they may be transporting drugs because of their own economic desperation or have been coerced into doing so.

After the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) pulled the release of its paper last year calling for alternatives to punishment for small-scale drug offences, the GCDP’s report re-opens the conversation of whether calls for decriminalisation should be broadened to reflect drug trade realities.

Advancing drug policy reform may give some state leaders pause for thought on how they treat people who are both economically marginalised and dependent on supplying drugs for their livelihoods, although it is unlikely to directly provoke policy reform. This report’s potential may lie in its ability to make wider decriminalisation gain traction among other influential international bodies.

*The author served as a technical advisor for “Advancing drug policy reform:  a new approach to decriminalization.”