Launch of the Global Commission on Drug Policy

26 January 2011

The purpose of the Global Commission on Drug Policy is to bring to the international level an informed, science-based discussion about humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs to people and societies.

Drugs are a complex and controversial issue. There is a growing perception that the ‘war on drugs’ approach has failed. Eradication of production and criminalization of consumption did not reduce drug traffic and drug use. In many countries the harm caused by drug prohibition in terms of corruption, violence and violation of human rights largely exceeds the harm caused by drugs. In many countries repressive policies remain firmly in place. Hence the need for engaging many actors - legislators and policymakers, scientists and health professionals, educators, law enforcement officers, parents and the young - in a constructive debate about viable alternatives, both at the national and international level.

The Commission will aim to build on the successful experience of the Latin American Commission convened by former presidents Cardoso of Brazil, Gaviria of Colombia and Zedillo of Mexico in 2009. Persuaded that the association between drug trade, violence and corruption was a threat to democracy in Latin America , the Commission reviewed the current ‘war on drugs’ policies and opened a public debate about an issue that tends to be surrounded by fear and misinformation. These goals were fulfilled with the publication on February 2009 of the Commission’s statement, Drugs and Democracy: Toward a Paradigm Shift.


  • Review the basic assumption, effectiveness and consequences of the 'war on drugs' approach;
  • Evaluate the risks and benefits of different national responses to the drug problem

Develop actionable, evidence-based recommendations for constructive legal and drug policy reform

Main areas of inquiry

The current international drug control regime - The ‘logical framework’ behind drug policies: what objectives it sets out to achieve and what assumptions it makes about how best to meet these objectives. The extent to which these objectives have been achieved over the past 50 years and the problems encountered. Main impediments to the reform of drug policies.

Global overview of drug policies and laws - Good practices and innovations in drug law reform. Main contested issues: harm reduction and decriminalization by law or in practice of cannabis and other drugs. Opportunities and pathways for improving national drug laws and for changing the UN drug control system.

Confronting the production and supply chain - Effectiveness of law enforcement activities aimed at production controls, including eradication and interdiction. Changes in production, transportation, retail and wholesale caused by the supply reduction approach. Trends in crimes associated with the production and supply chain, including money laundering, arms trafficking and corruption.

Criminal justice challenges - The criminalization and incarceration of people involved in retail drug markets and of people charged with possession or use of illicit drugs. Risks and benefits of eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana possession for personal use and other forms of sentencing reform. Risks and benefits of distinguishing trafficking from small-scale dealing and of compulsory drug treatment.

Demand reduction: prevention, harm reduction and treatment - The effectiveness of drug prevention campaigns: a cultural and educational challenge. Lessons learned from the successful campaigns to reduce tobacco consumption and to prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS. Harm reduction and treatment: practices, consequences and results. Recommendations for improving public health and community safety.

Drug trade and organized crime: economic and political implications - The rising scope and ramifications of the global drug business and market. Drug trade, violence and corruption: the risk to undermine democratic institutions. Drug trade, money laundering and illegal arms smuggling. Drug trade and armed conflict. Transnational drug trade and ‘failed’ or ‘rogue’ states. The evolving and elusive nature of global drug networks.


  • Chair: Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil
  • Asma Jahangir, human rights activist, former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Executions, Pakistan
  • Carlos Fuentes, writer and public intellectual, Mexico
  • César Gaviria, former President of Colombia
  • Ernesto Zedillo, former President of México
  • George Shultz, former Secretary of State , United States (honorary chair)
  • Javier Solana, former European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Spain
  • John Whitehead, banker and civil servant, chair of the World Trade Center Memorial, United States
  • Maria Cattaui, Member of the Board, Petroplus Holdings; former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Switzerland
  • Marion Caspers-Merk, former State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Health, Germany
  • Mario Vargas Llosa, writer and public intellectual, Peru
  • Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria , France
  • Richard Branson, entrepreneur, advocate for social causes, founder of the Virgin Group, cofounder of The Elders, United Kingdom
  • Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland and Minister of Public Health
  • Thorvald Stoltenberg, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Norway