Modelling the whole system




1. A system model of drug policy/control is needed:

  1. to show the simplest overview of all essential processes within the drug control system, connecting all policy areas together into an integrated system, allowing a 'whole system' view. This model would outline the relationships between health, law, education and economics and link them with human rights and the responsibilities of authorities.
  2. to show that UN drug Conventions divide drug control policy into 2 very different systems, one based on regulation, the other on repression.
  3. to compare the costs and benefits of regulation with those of repression.
  4. to provide prohibitionists and reformers with common ground upon which debate can be based.
  5. to show how organisations could cooperate to form networks by defining their roles within the system.
  6. to show prohibitionists that legalisation should not be feared as an unknown because it is a tried and tested system that has proven to be more effective than prohibition.

2. A model of current drug control comparing legal drug regulation with illegal drug repression

  1. UN drug Conventions prohibit the production, supply and use of non-medicinal drugs that are harmful. The Conventions are intended to result in harm reduction.
  2. The Conventions impose a global illegal drug policy on national governments to ensure the prohibition of international illegal drug supply.
  3. Regulation of legal drugs: National governments implement their own legal drug policies. A cost-benefit analysis determines the type of government intervention. Education is used to encourage beneficial use (e.g. moderate alcohol consumption), tolerate reasonably safe use and discourage use harmful to the consumer. Education policy encourages informed choice. The cost-benefit analysis also identifies use, supply and production harmful to others. Legislation and law enforcement are used to limit this. Legislation designed to prevent drug production harmful to others can include laws requiring a cost-benefit analysis (e.g. clinical trials for pharmaceutical drugs), quantity and quality control, safe use instructions, side-effects warnings, ingredients list and sell-by date. Legislation designed to prevent drug supply harmful to others can include laws requiring marketing restrictions (e.g. advertising) and sales restrictions (e.g. sales outlets, sales to young people). Legislation designed to prevent drug use harmful to others includes laws against drink-driving, passive smoking and drug-related violence. Drug sales are taxed providing sufficient income to cover all the costs of drug education, regulation and law enforcement as well as covering the costs of health treatment for the harm caused by drug use.
  4. Repression of illegal drugs: Illegal drug policy aims to reduce harm by repressing all production, supply and use through legislation and law enforcement. Education is used to discourage demand for illegal drugs. Authorities cannot regulate black market production, supply and use to limit the harm they cause so there is no possibility of quantity/quality control, of marketing or sales control, or of taxing the trade to pay for social costs. Considerable amounts of money are spent attempting to repress illegal drugs but the black market has continued to expand. Harm reduction policies are slowly being introduced by some authorities, usually through health and education services, to limit the harm caused by illegal drug production, supply and use (e.g. quantity/quality control, safe use instructions, needle exchanges). Other authorities are reluctant to implement such harm reduction policies for fear they will encourage illegal drug use.


3. Criticisms of the current divided drug control system:

  1. UN drug Conventions fail to define 'drug', 'harm' and 'non-medicinal use'. 'DRUG': They fail to provide any evidence that illegal drug use is more harmful than legal drug use (alcohol and tobacco). The Conventions fail to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of all non-medicinal drug use. They prohibit the illegal drugs before any scientific judgement. This pre-judgement, or prejudice, results in the prohibition of those drugs not traditionally used in the West while permitting traditional drugs equally, or more, harmful. As with all unjust discrimination 'different from traditional' is equated with 'bad' and 'same as traditional' is equated with 'good'. Recent scientific evidence suggests that safer alternatives to legal drugs have been prohibited suggesting that the legal regulation of illegal drugs may be a harm reduction policy. For example evidence indicates that cannabis is a safer relaxant/intoxicant than alcohol in terms of risk of addiction, overdose, accident and violence. The Conventions encourage the use of more harmful drugs by prohibiting safer alternatives. This inconsistency leads people, especially the young, to disrespect the law and the authorities. 'HARM': The Conventions also fail to distinguish harm to the consumer from harm to others. They fail to recognise that citizens have greater rights to risk harming themselves than to risk harming others. 'NON-MEDICINAL USE': The Conventions fail to consider evidence suggesting that all non-medicinal drugs are mostly misused by those suffering from stress - work-related stress or stress from poverty and social exclusion. Untreated stress may cause more harm than the use of so-called non-medicinal drugs for self-medication. The Conventions fail to recognise the human right to self-medicate for stress. They also deny another unalienable human right, the 'pursuit of happiness' - so long as that pursuit does not harm others.
  2. UN Conventions cannot develop and adapt as better evidence of drug harm emerges because a single nation may veto any change. As a result national governments are prevented from exploring alternative modern evidence-based policies designed to optimise harm reduction, cost effectiveness and informed choice.
  3. Legal drug policies target actual harm both to consumer and to others rather than trying to prevent beneficial use and reasonably safe use - they focus resources where they are needed and do not waste them where they are not needed. Self-harm is not criminalised, only harm to others. Citizens may risk self-harm not only from legal drugs but also from food misuse (obesity) and recreational activities (e.g. sports accidents). Production and supply regulations ensure that drugs are as safe as possible. Legal drug policy recognises the right of consumers to informed choice and the right of producers and suppliers to meet consumer demand. Regulation also allows the drug trade to be taxed to pay for the social costs, making no demands on non-drug using tax-payers.
  4. Illegal drug policies: HUMAN RIGHTS: There is repression of the rights of consumers to use the illegal drugs beneficially or reasonably safely. There is no recognition that citizens have greater rights to risk harming themselves than to risk harming others. The prejudice and use of law against illegal drugs leads to producers, suppliers and consumers facing discrimination, social exclusion, persecution, prosecution, punishment, imprisonment, even death. DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS: tax-payers' money is not used cost-effectively. There has been little involvement of citizens in policy making. Democratic mechanisms within the justice system have been disabled primarily by failure to inform juries of their right - indeed legal duty - to judge whether or not the law is just. TRADE RIGHTS: Producer nations are denied the right to sustainably exploit their natural resources and provide their subsistence farmers with a livelihood. Suppliers are denied fair trade rights and consumers are denied consumer rights (informed choice and consumer protection). ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS: Crop eradication programs cause environmental damage. HARM INCREASING: There are no regulatory safeguards for production and supply making illegal drug use more harmful than if legally regulated (see 2.3 above). Health and education authorities wishing to implement harm reduction policies to compensate for the lack of regulatory safeguards are severely hampered by the prohibition policy of governments. ECONOMIC WASTE and FUNDING CRIME: The reliance of illegal drug policy on law enforcement is expensive but ineffective. No income is possible from taxing the trade to cover social costs so all profits go to organised crime while the additional law enforcement costs of prohibition are wasted through lack of focus on actual harm.

4. Conclusions and recommendations:

  1. Prohibition is not a cost effective form of regulation. It ignores a major source of income (tax) and requires large additional expenditure (law enforcement costs).
  2. Prohibition causes more harm than it prevents. It makes drug production, supply and use more harmful (no regulatory safeguards), harms the environment and the rights of producers, suppliers and consumers.
  3. Regulations for controlling drugs, whether medicinal or non-medicinal, should target the specific risks of harm at each stage of production, supply and use. Repression of a natural instinct and human right is unjust and unsustainable. Harm reduction strategies aim to fill the void left by lack of regulation: testing quality/quantity of illegal drugs, supplying consumers with safe use instructions and the means of following those instructions (e.g. needle exchange programs).
  4. Regulatory frameworks for potentially harmful activities should be reviewed to extract the 'best practise' from each framework. This integrated framework should then be adapted to each potentially harmful activity.