This briefing paper calls for a much needed Impact Assessment of drug policy. All stakeholders in the drugs debate share the goal of a policy and legal structures that maximise social, environmental, physical and psychological wellbeing. However, the debate around improving drug policy has been emotive, polarised and deadlocked. Proponents of different views of the best way forward tend to focus on the arguments and evidence that support their perspective. In this context, national governments and international agencies need to take a structured approach to assessing the best mix of evidence-based drug policies to promote human development, human security and human rights. Impact Assessment methodologies provide a potential mechanism for conducting an independent, neutral analysis that all stakeholders can support. These methodologies have been used to great effect in other policy areas, comparing the economic, environmental and social costs and benefits of existing policies against a full range of alternatives. For an Impact Assessment of drug policy, these alternatives should include more intensive/punitive enforcement approaches, as well as options for decriminalisation of personal use, and models for legal regulation of drug production and supply.
The historic nature of the drug policy debate has meant that policy development has often lacked objective scrutiny. By rationally and methodically focusing on the evidence, in terms of costs and benefits of different options, and using established methodologies already embedded in most governments’ processes, IA brings drug policy back into the arena of science, avoiding the polarising clashes that have long defined the debate. A call for IA is essentially a call for better evidence, and a structured approach to assessing policy options to inform debate and determine the best way forward. As such it is politically neutral, and a very reasonable request to policy makers.
At the very least, carrying out IAs on key elements of drug policy would for the first time allow taxpayers to judge how well their money was being spent. At best, it would provide an opportunity to move to a genuinely science based drug policy that promotes human development, human security and human rights, and is fit for the challenges of the 21st Century.