Drug conventions serve as the cornerstone for domestic drug laws and impose a dual obligation upon states to prevent the misuse of controlled substances while ensuring their adequate availability for medical and scientific purposes. Despite the mandate that these obligations be enforced equally, the dominant paradigm enshrined in the drug conventions is an enforcement-heavy criminal justice response to controlled substances that prohibits and penalizes their misuse. Prioritizing restrictive control is to the detriment of ensuring adequate availability of and access to controlled medicines, thereby violating the rights of people who need them. This paper argues that the drug conventions’ prioritization of criminal justice measures—including efforts to prevent non-medical use of controlled substances—undermines access to medicines and infringes upon the right to health and the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress. While the effects of criminalization under drug policy limit the right to health in multiple ways, we draw on research and documented examples to highlight the impact of drug control and criminalization on access to medicines. The prioritization and protection of human rights—specifically the right to health and the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress—are critical to rebalancing drug policy.

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