Discussions about illicit drugs can often hinge on misunderstandings about terms. This confusion is glaring when words such as “decriminalization,” where drug possession is no longer criminalized, and “legalization,” legalizing the sale of drugs like heroin or cocaine, are used interchangeably.
There is also confusion about the effectiveness of the 1961, 1971 and 1988 international drug conventions, which regulate our global approach to drug control. Those who label the conventions as ineffective now talk about liberalizing drug laws and amending the regulations. But the system is working — especially when it comes to health.
The conventions have helped limit the threat of illicit drugs. Global opium production fell by roughly 80 percent over the last century, even as the earth’s population quadrupled.
The 1961 Single Convention was created to control the use of drugs for the protection of the “health and welfare of mankind.” Since its creation, it has emphasized health – not just handcuffs and law enforcement.
For this focus to succeed, we must ensure that drug users are treated with respect, not marginalized or discriminated against. The conventions are flexible enough to offer evidence-based therapy to those who are addicted, as well as rehabilitation, education and social reintegration.