The global war on drugs has failed

global-initiative-2Fifty years after the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was launched, the global war on drugs has failed, and has had many unintended and devastating consequences worldwide. It empowers criminal cartels, destroys lives, infringes civil rights, and fails to reduce drug use or availability. It is time to consider alternatives to the current criminalising approach to drug control. The Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform, launched at the House of Lords on November 17, 2011, released a Public Letter calling for a new approach.

application-pdfRead the public letter (PDF)

The Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform is an initiative of the Beckley Foundation.


  • To promote health-oriented, cost-effective drug policies based on scientific evidence and human rights.

  • To support the rational redistribution of resources away from criminalisation and incarceration and towards healthcare, education and rehabilitation.

  • To bring together and provide a forum for a) the Global Commission on Drug Policy; b) countries who have successfully implemented alternative approaches; and c) countries interested in drug policy reform.

  • To commission, collect and disseminate information and new data in order to educate politicians and the public about alternative approaches to drug policy.

The Initiative is based on:

  • the awareness that the War on Drugs has failed;

  • the scientific evidence that now shows health-oriented drug policies to be more cost-effective, humane and harm-reducing than criminalisation.

Time for change:

Despite governments spending globally in excess of $100 billion a year on fighting the War on Drugs, there has been a clear long-term pattern of increasing availability and use. The unintended consequences of the current policies include ever-growing health problems and soaring levels of crime, violence and corruption throughout the world, together with discrimination and widespread abuses of human rights. The illicit drug trade is now the third most valuable industry in the world, estimated to be worth $450 billion per year, all in the hands of criminals.

Improving our drug policy is one of the key policy challenges of our time. Let us break the taboo on debate and reform. The time for action is now.

The Initiative may be summarised as: 

1) ’Rewriting the UN Drug Conventions’

We have commissioned the preparation of the Rewriting the UN Drug Conventions Report which is based on amendments to the UN Drug Control Conventions of 1961, 1971 and 1988. This report is designed to show how the current conventions could adapt to clearly allow: (1) signatory countries to decriminalise drug-use and personal possession of any, or all, controlled drugs; (2) a nation to create a legal, regulated domestic market in any drug, such as cannabis or coca, while preserving current controls on international trade. This work is being carried out by international drug-policy analyst Professor Robin Room, together with a team of international lawyers.  This Report will provide an invaluable guide to how the conventions can be adapted to give signatory countries greater freedom to experiment with alternative policies.

2) Regulating and Taxing Cannabis in the UK.

We have commissioned the first-ever Cost-benefit Analysis of the control of cannabis through regulation and taxation in the UK. This work is being undertaken by Professor Stephen Pudney (Institute for Social and Economic Research).

3) The House of Lords Meeting

The Beckley Foundation and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform are organising a meeting of government leaders, policy-makers and experts to debate the effectiveness of alternative policies. Members of The Global Commission on Drug Policy will attend the Meeting, and present their Report. The Meeting will take place at the House of Lords on 17 November 2011. 

4) Alternative Drug Policies

We have invited countries that have implemented progressive approaches to drug control to present evidence and discuss the results of their policy decisions. These will include Portugal, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Spain, among others. To learn more about these alternative policies, visit the page on New Approaches. 

5) Closed Meeting

On Friday 18th November, there will be a closed meeting at the House of Lords for representatives of countries interested in drug policy reform to privately discuss ways in which the UN Drug Conventions can be amended, following information drawn from Rewriting the UN Drug Conventions, commissioned by the Beckley Foundation. 

6) Informing the Public

We are organising a media campaign to educate the public about the failings of the current criminalising approach and the benefits of an evidence-based, harm-reduction approach to drug policy.  The launch of the Initiative coincides with the 50th anniversary of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which is at the root of the present system.  
7) Public opinions on drug regulation.

Following the Liberal Democrat’s recent poll that found that 70% of the British Public support alternative regulatory drug control policies, we are developing a public poll to explore this further and increase the sample size.

We hope that the Initiative may lead to the development of a more flexible framework, enabling interested countries to…

“…replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights…” (former-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil.)