GENEVA —The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on countries worldwide to end the criminalisation of drug users as a means to curb new HIV infections.

The recommendation was published in the organisation’s Consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for key populations report published this month. The report, in its broader context, considered policy responses for populations including men who have sex with men, prisoners, sex-workers and transgender people. It also reiterates the WHO’s long-standing call for the decriminalisation of same-sex relationships and sex-work, based on human rights and public health concerns.

On the decriminalisation of drug use, the WHO’s recommendations are extensive. The organisation recommends that:

  1. Countries should work to developing policies and laws that decriminalize injection and other use of drugs and, thereby, reduce incarceration;
  2. Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalise the use of clean needles and syringes; and
  3. Countries should ban compulsory treatment for people who use and/or inject drugs

The report also points to the success of Portugal in treating drug addiction as a public health, rather than a criminal, issue as a model for countries to emulate.

CARICOM stuck on marijuana: In June, Jamaica became the first country in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to state its intention to decriminalise the possession of marijuana, amending the Dangerous Drugs Act to permit possession of marijuana in small amounts, and permitting its use for religious or medicinal purposes in private settings.

The Jamaican government also intends to expunge criminal records of persons previously convicted of small-scale possession under the previous incarnation of the Act.

Jamaica’s move comes ahead of expected recommendations of the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana Use, which was established by a decision of CARICOM Heads of Government at their 35th Conference from July 1-4, 2014.

With a mandate to “conduct a rigorous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the Region, and to advise whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of marijuana”, the Commission’s considerations fall short of the scope envisioned by the WHO for broad-based decriminalisation.

World Health Organisation calls on all countries to decriminalise drug use

Jovan Reid

Jovan Reid is AMG's consultant advisor on public policy and media advocacy, focusing on issues in public health, sustainability and climate change.

Category: HealthPolitics