The emergence of more pragmatic and less punitive approaches to the drugs issue may represent the beginning of change in the current global drug control regime. The spread of HIV/AIDS among injecting drug users, the overcrowding of prisons, the reluctance in South America to remain a theatre for military anti-drug operations, and the ineffectiveness of repressive anti-drug efforts to reduce the illicit market have all contributed to the global erosion of support for the United States-style war on drugs.

Over the last decade rapidly widening cracks have begun to split global drug control consensus. The zero-tolerance ideology is increasingly challenged by calls for decriminalisation, harm reduction and embedding human rights principles in drug control. And in recent years the merits of a regulated legal market for cannabis has been accepted as part of the mainstream debate about a more effective control model.

This paper describes how the foundations for the global control system were established, the radicalisation of the system toward more repressive implementation, consequently leading to soft defections and de-escalation efforts becoming more widespread; and in the last section projects a future for the ongoing reform process toward a modernisation and humanisation of the control system’s international legal framework as laid down in the UN drug control conventions.