After 50 years of a failed war against drugs we finally have an opportunity to introduce a rational approach to one of the world's most intractable problems - the illegal drugs trade which is financing terrorism and international crime.
The United Nations will have a Special Session on global drug policy next April and will begin discussions next month in New York. Our Guidance on Interpreting the Drug Conventions, published today, sets out an entirely new vision for global drug policy. The first step is to abandon the hopeless objective of creating a drug free world. Human beings have always taken mood altering drugs, and always will. How many of us can honestly say we never take alcohol, tobacco, coffee, chocolate or tea?
We argue that, above all, the world needs an ethical and evidence based drugs strategy. The aims should be, on the demand side, to enhance public health by reducing the levels of addiction; on the supply side, to reduce the levels of violence, corruption and funding of terrorists and criminal gangs; on medicines, to ensure that the population of every country has access to essential pain relieving medicines; and on criminal justice, to end to the use of the death penalty for drug offences.
In the Guidance, we present four justifications for a world-wide U-turn on drug policy. I mention just two here.
First, policies to crack down on drugs which breach human rights must be abandoned. If the UN Drug Conventions conflict with human rights then human rights trump the Drug Treaties. An example is the aerial spraying of coca crops.
Peasant farmers in remote areas of Colombia and Peru, for example, find they can make a living by growing coca for the drug barons. Under the UN Conventions, such farming is illegal. The US has supported wholesale aerial spraying to kill the coca crops. The aerial spraying leaves the land unusable for any other crop.
Overnight, the peasants and their families find themselves destitute. In these areas, roads are grossly inadequate and railways non-existent. Finding a job just isn't an option in the short term.
A second aspect of coca production is that the peasant farmers including wives are commonly imprisoned. Children are deprived of their parents and the basics of life.
The Latin American officials who worked with us on the Guidance, are recommending a radical new approach to the coca growing peasants. Instead of aerial spraying of crops, and imprisonment of the vulnerable peasants, they and we recommend more sustainable policies to educate and develop the communities, create job opportunities and build the vital infrastructure to link these remote regions to towns and cities.
Reform of drug policies to reduce addiction among young people in Countries like the UK can be justified on a very different basis. The UN drug Conventions are riddled with inconsistencies and it is entirely possible to re-interpret the Conventions to permit the decriminalisation of possession and use of drugs listed as illegal in the Convention schedules.
We know the benefits of the Portuguese decriminalisation policy which has been in place for more than a decade: lower levels of addiction among young people; more people in treatment and less prison overcrowding; also greater success of former drug addicts in finding employment.
The UK Government needs to take note of the Home Affairs Select Committee's recognition of the potential benefits of the Portuguese model.
We all want a safer world for our children and young people. Increasingly we have the evidence about how best to achieve this.