Mon, 10 Dec 2018

End prohibition and move to legal regulation of drugs.

This was the call from delegates at the opening of South African Drug Policy Week, which takes place until October 12 in Cape Town.

Delegates are calling for an evidence-based and human-rights-informed public health policy focused on the reduction of harm and protection of drug users.

"The failure of the war on drugs, with its policies based on prohibition, has led to the unintended consequences of a black market internationally worth $360bn that has produced more drugs that are cheaper, stronger and more harmful to the users as well as fuelling violence, crime, narco states and mass incarcerations throughout the world," the organisers said in a statement.

At the opening ceremony of the conference, Michel Kazatchkine, commissioner of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, said: "Move away from prohibition and move to legal regulation.

"Just as we regulate everything, every substance and every behaviour that is of potential risk. We do not prohibit alcohol, tobacco, food preservatives, driving cars. We regulate what is risky and this is the government's responsibility," Kazatchkine said.

The move to regulate drugs comes in the wake of the Constitutional Court's decision to decriminalise dagga for private use.

"The right to privacy is not confined to a home or private dwelling. It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private space," Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said in the judgment on September 19.

Last week, the Global Commission on Drug Policy launched a new report titled, Regulation: the responsible control of drugs, in Mexico City and New York, which addresses the reality that more than 250 million people around the world consume currently prohibited drugs.

"Accepting this reality and putting in place an effective regulatory strategy to manage it, is part of a responsible, evidence-based approach that deals with the world as it is, in contrast with ideologically driven and ultimately counterproductive attempts to create a 'drug-free world'," according to the statement.

"In South Africa, even with some progress being made with the ruling on the use of cannabis in private spaces, there is still some reluctance in accepting harm-reduction interventions, not only from the general public, but some medical practitioners."

Shaun Shelly, founder of the South African Drug Policy Week, has "noticed the frustrations of working in a public policy vacuum when implementing practices focusing on harm reduction".

According to Shelly, there have been successes with the City of Tshwane looking at science and compassionate ways of reducing harm.

"At the South African Drug Policy Week 2018, we will examine many issues through a critical lens, keeping in mind the international, regional and local data, and the emerging evidence from innovative programmes and the local context.

"We aim to focus this year on African and South African interventions. With these new innovative interventions we are no longer being passive, we are doing.

"We are finding new approaches and paths towards effective drug policy and interventions that focus not only on the individual, but also the context and the systemic drivers that make the use of drugs more harmful than it need be," says Shelly.

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