In recent years of global debate on policies and strategies on controlled drugs, the European institutions (European Commission and Council, and the EMCDDA) and member states have broadly been a progressive and civilizing factor in pushing for balanced, evidence based and humane drug policies and programmes.

The EU drug strategy, successive versions of which have, for almost 20 years now, laid down the principles and commitments of the member states, has been developed with the thoughtful and enthusiastic political support of EC and member state officials. Over this period, a shared European approach has emerged that, while not perfect, has been based on a commitment to balance between the reduction of supply, demand and harm; that explicitly recognises the importance of basing policy on evidence; and that, equally explicitly, places drug policy within the wider European ideals of freedom, security, and human rights.

However, just when the wider global debate (and public opinion) is shifting in accordance with these principles, and there are real political opportunities to create more balanced, humane and effective drug policies across the world, there are worrying signs that the European institutions are taking a wrong turn – the vision and leadership on this issue is notably absent, and some of the more recent positions taken seem to indicate a return to the simplistic messages and priorities of the failed policies of the past.

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