In a joint statement, the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO) expressed their support for countries in the review and repeal of laws that criminalize drug use and possession of drugs for personal use. This joint statement, which addresses discrimination in health care settings, comes in light of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which aim to “ensure that no one is left behind”.
The WHO has previously called for drug decriminalization as a necessary measure for public health but this joint statement with the UN represents another significant step in the global movement for drug decriminalization.
Internationally, several countries already have some form of drug decriminalization. Portugal, most notably, decriminalized drugs back in 2001 as a response to the country’s HIV crisis and has demonstrated the vast benefits of decriminalization – substantial reductions in overdose, HIV/AIDS and addiction, all without any increase in drug use or crime.
Not only does drug decriminalization drastically reduce the number of people mired in the quicksand of the criminal justice system – it also, as the UN/WHO statement highlights, vastly improve public health. It decreases the stigma against people who use drugs and addresses the discrimination they historically face.
The harms of discrimination are only exacerbated in health settings, where it is literally a matter of life and death. Decriminalization can be the difference between a loved one getting the health services they need and a loved one being stigmatized, denied treatment and in danger of losing their life.
Drug decriminalization is a rational and fiscally sound policy rooted in health and human rights. The New Zealand Government and others around the world have an indisputable moral and scientific imperative to pursue it.