The Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group comprising 14 former heads of state from countries including Mexico, Portugal and New Zealand, has issued a blockbuster finding about the global system of illegal drug classification: It should be scrapped entirely and replaced with a new system that's rooted in science.
According to the report (included in full below), the "deep-lying imbalance" between criminalizing narcotics and permitting their medicinal use had led to "collateral damage" including forcing patients in low- and middle-income countries to undergo surgery without anaesthetic, or even to die in unnecessary pain due to a lack of access to opioids or other pain medications.
Additionally, the system had bred other social ills, from the spread of infectious diseases, to overcrowding in prisons around the world (with the US being one notable culprit).
In an interview with the Guardian, one former head of the commission described the system of drug scheduling as "rotten to the core."
"The international system to classify drugs is at the core of the drug control regime – and unfortunately the core is rotten," said Ruth Dreifuss, former president of Switzerland and chair of the commission. She called for a "critical review" of the classification system, prioritizing the role of the World Health Organization (WHO) and scientific research in setting criteria based on harms and benefits.
The Guardian also noted that the WHO had estimated in 2011 that 83% of the world’s population lived in countries with little or no access to opioids for pain relief. In January, the global health organization also recommended that marijuana be reclassified worldwide to reflect its relatively harmless effects and potential medical uses.
The former prime minister of New Zealand, a member of the commission, told the Guardian that decisions on drug classification should be left to the WHO.
Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand, said the WHO should make decisions on drug classification based on health and wellbeing. More harmful drugs would require a higher level of intervention, she said.
"The international community should recognise that the system is broken," said Clark. "They should recognise the inconsistencies and it should trigger a review."
Restrictions on milder drugs like marijuana should be loosened dramatically to allow for more medicinal uses or traditional/religious uses. And risk thresholds like that used for alcohol should be applied to drugs more generally, instead of the "absolute precautionary principle."
The Commission also blamed failures of regulation for unleashing the opioid crisis in the US. Notably, the opioid crisis was largely rooted in the common practice of doctors prescribing addictive opioids, then cutting patients off when they got addicted, forcing them to seek out more harmful street drugs like heroin.
Read the full report below: