All these experts and agencies say: Don't treat drug users as criminals. It's time politicians listened

We should be able to argue for the decriminalisation of drugs on the basis of the evidence (which is overwhelming) that criminalisation doesn't deter use, but does exacerbate a range of serious health and social harms.

But politicians are often not terribly interested in evidence, especially if it undermines their pre-existing policy positions. Presenting evidence on drug policy reform to the UK government for example, is invariably met with a standardised response to the effect that drugs are bad for you therefore they have no intention of reviewing current legislation, let alone actually changing it. 

Given this institutional obstinance, it can be useful to cite the many authoritative voices calling for an end to the criminalisation of drug users. Most notably, various agencies and senior figures from within the United Nations, and high-profile organisations and individuals from the fields of science and medicine. Below is a collection of referenced quotes from these sources. 

These are not the usual suspects. They cannot be brushed aside as being drug users after an easy life, or part of the “liberal metropolitan elite”.

We urge you to use these quotes to hold politicians account. If you hear or read that they’re disputing the evidence on decriminalisation, or arguing that it’s a fringe position, ask them what secret knowledge they're privy to that these experts are apparently not. Ask them for the reasons. Ask them for the evidence. Write to them, tweet them, and ask them in person (and let us know what they say). Many may not be aware of just how widespread and high-level support for reform is, so even if you don’t get the reply you want, you may still have helped to educate them. 

For more background on decriminalisation, see:


United Nations / international



Ban Ki Moon: Message on the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, 26 June 2015.





WHO (2014) Consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for key populations.





Introductory comments from Michel Sidibé, Executive Director, UNAIDS in The Global State of Harm Reduction’, Harm Reduction International, 2012.





UNDP (2015) Addressing the Development dimensions of Drug Policy.






UNDP / UNAIDS Global Commission on HIV and the Law (2012) Risks, Rights and Health.





Kofi Annan (2015) Speech to World Health Assembly.





Anand Grover (2010) Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standand of physical and mental health.




UN Women (2015) A Gender Perspective On The Impact Of Drug Use, The Drug Trade, And Drug Control Regimes




United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2015) Study on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights



The Organization of American States (2013) The Drug Problem in the Americas.





The Global Commission on Drug Policy (2015) Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work.



Science and medicine



European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2015) Alternatives to punishment for drug-using offenders.





American Public Health Association (2014) Defining and Implementing a Public Health Response to Drug Use and Misuse.





ACMD (2011) Sentencing Guidelines Council - ACMD response.





Richard Horton (2012) Drug use is an issue for society, not the criminal justice system. 





Fiona Godlee (2010) 'Ideology in the Ascendant', the British Medical Journal, vol 341. 





BBC News (2010) 'Top doctor Sir Ian Gilmore calls for drugs law review'.






Statement to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, 55th Session.





Human Rights Watch (2013) 'Americas: Decriminalize Personal Use of Drugs'.





The Vienna Declaration.