There is broad consensus that one overall aim of drug policy is to advance the health and welfare of mankind and reduce the individual and public health-related, social and safety problems resulting from the abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. At the UN General assembly in April 2016, Heads of State and Governments reaffirmed their determination to prevent and treat the abuse of such substances and prevent and counter their illicit cultivation, production, manufacturing and trafficking. Despite this general understanding, the design and content of national drug policies vary to a large extent. The variation partly reflects differences in the nature of national drug problems and the resources allocated to this policy field, but also reflects ideological differences in how governments respond to drug problems.

In line with much of the academic literature this report uses the term “drug policy” as to include governmental policies on prevention, enforcement, treatment, harm reduction and social reintegration. The policies include laws and programs intended to influence drug use and its consequences for users and society. National drug control policy constitutes one subset of drug policies and is based on three internationally agreed conventions, namely the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs; the 1971Convention on Psychotropic Substances; and the1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs. National legislations may introduce stricter domestic legislation than that demanded by the Conventions but they should not bring in more lenient legislation. Signing countries are obligated to make drug supply, i.e. production, sale, transport and distribution of drugs for non-medical purposes, a criminal act. The drug conventions further oblige states to ensure that possession of drugs, even in small quantities, shall be a punishable offence, though not necessarily a criminal offence. The Conventions offer alternatives to conviction or punishment, including treatment, education, aftercare, rehabilitation and social reintegration.