Countries should decriminalise drug possession and even petty supply and gradually move towards ‘regulating’ the illegal drug market, a major international report concludes.
It said countries are locking up huge numbers of people for drug crimes, including Ireland, where, it said, a fifth of inmates are in for drug offences.
The research, conducted by the Johns Hopkins-Lancet Commission on Drug Policy and Health, says there is “compelling evidence” from countries such as Portugal and the Czech Republic that decriminalisation has seen “significant” public health benefits.
The Oireachtas Justice Committee recommended last November the Portuguese model be examined here. The Hopkins-Lancet Commission report also strongly backs supervised injecting centres saying they reduced overdose deaths and the spread of infectious diseases.
Last December, the previous government gave the green light for a pilot medically-supervised injecting centre in Dublin.
Outgoing drugs minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin backed this proposal and also a Portuguese-type model.
The report of the Hopkins-Lancet Commission, composed of 22 experts, was published yesterday in the run-up to a special examination of drug laws by the UN this month.
“Decriminalisation of non-violent minor drug offences is a first and urgent step in a longer process of fundamentally rethinking drug policies,” said co-author Joanne Csete of the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York. “As long as prohibition continues, parallel criminal markets, violence and repression will continue.”
The report says the idea that “all drug use is dangerous and evil” has led to enforcement-heavy policies and made it difficult to treat potentially dangerous drugs in the same light as tobacco and alcohol. It says policing practices undertaken in the name of the public good has “demonstrably worsened public health” and that the greatest impacts of drug prohibition are the “excessive use of incarceration”.
It says 20% of inmates in Irish prisons are there for drug offences, the same as Russia, twice as high as New Zealand, half those of Italy, but similar to the world average of 21%. The report, published in The Lancet, backed decriminalisation of minor non-violent drug offences, such as use, possession and petty sale.
“Countries such as Portugal and the Czech Republic decriminalised minor drug offences years ago, with significant financial savings, less incarceration, significant public health benefits and no significant increase in drug use,” it said.
The report called on countries to “move gradually toward regulated drug markets”, but urged independent and rigorous assessment of this model.
The research accepts that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has argued that without prohibition that drug use would be as widespread as alcohol, with disastrous consequences.
However, the report concluded that the “harms of prohibition far outweigh the benefits”.
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