By Rafael Custódio

"It always seems impossible until it’s done.” One of the most famous quotes attributed to Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) perfectly fits the increasingly forceful and persuasive debate that is questioning prohibitionist drug policies all around the world. Among the list of issues informing the debate, one deserves special attention: why should human rights organisations participate in this debate and in what way?

In 1971, then United States President Richard Nixon announced that “America’s public enemy number one is drug abuse.”1 This moment marked the beginning of the so-called “war on drugs”. Today, however, a young resident of Denver, Colorado can go to the corner and legally purchase up to 28 grams of marijuana per month for recreational use. If the same youth were in San Francisco, California, he would have been able to use medical marihuana to fight chronic pain since 1996.

Why are so many things changing at a relatively fast pace not only in the US, but also in countries as diverse as Portugal, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain and Uruguay? These countries have approved drug policies that move – some more than others – in the opposite direction of prohibitionism.

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