Civil Society Forum on Drugs: Position Paper on Decriminalisation

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EATG endorses the Position Paper on Decriminalisation issued by the Civil Society Forum on Drugs in Europe, to which we contributed along with other participating organisations

Several actors in the field of drug policy have indicated that a punitive approach is counterproductive to achieving the health and welfare of humankind. The 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem (2) confirmed that this is an important step towards active drug policies that are based on human rights and health approaches.

Since then, many UN agencies have reported the negative impact of criminalisation on people who use drugs and on their surrounding communities.  Recommendations have also been brought that favour a decriminalisation process in drug policies. This process aims to remove the stigma against people who use drugs as well as to ensure that they have access to a broad range of support and health services, including prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction.

The decriminalisation of drug use and related activities is a policy option that is widely supported by the United Nations as a core component of a human rights- and health-based approach towards people who use drugs.

The UN System Common Position on drugs (3) – the UN overarching policy document on drug policy – and the more recent UN System Common Position on Incarceration (4), have also recommended decriminalisation of drug use and possession. The International Narcotics Control Board, which supports UN Member States in implementing the international drug control treaties, has even concluded that decriminalisation is aligned with the drug conventions (5).

In addition, an increasing number of UN entities and experts have recently come out in favour of decriminalisation as a critical enabler for ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights. This includes the World Health Organization (6), the United Nations Development Programme, (7) UN Women (8), the High Commissioner for Human Rights (9), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (10), the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (11) and the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health (12). Adding to these calls, on 24 June 2023, 16 UN Human Rights Special Mandates concluded that ‘drug use and possession for personal use should be decriminalised as a matter of urgency’ (13).

In 2023, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Report ‘Human rights challenges in addressing and countering all aspects of the world drug problem’ (14), published as an official contribution to the 2024 mid-term review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on Drugs, strongly stresses the importance of decriminalisation as a crucial factor to limit human rights violations in drug policies. The OHCHR concluded that ‘if effectively designed and implemented, decriminalization can be a powerful instrument to ensure that the rights of people who use drugs are protected’. The report includes decriminalisation as a key recommendation, calling on policymakers to ‘review convictions and/or sentences and, where appropriate, quash, commute, or reduce convictions and/or sentences’.

One of the focus areas of UNAIDS “Save lives: decriminalize” (15), includes a strong position that “Decriminalization is a critical element to end AIDS by 2030”. This UN agency also states that “Punitive laws have been shown to block HIV service access and increase HIV risk” and that “Countries that criminalize key populations [including people who use drugs] saw less progress towards HIV testing and treatment targets over the last five years – with significantly lower percentages of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status and achieving viral suppression than in countries that avoided criminalization”.

The UNAIDS statement on the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (16) reaffirms its commitment to keep human rights at the centre of its approach to ending the AIDS pandemic. The statement also calls on all governments to uphold human rights, through removal of laws that cause harm and infringe on people’s rights and enactment of laws that uphold the rights of every person, including people in marginalized communities.

The current EU Drug Strategy 2021-2025  (17) endorses alternatives to coercive sanctions as the approach that respects the human rights of people who use drugs.

While some EU member states retain a stance of criminalisation of personal use and related behaviours in their national legislations, several member states have already decriminalised use and possession for personal use (18), and various EU member states have bills in their parliament to take that step as well.

The Civil Society Forum on Drugs, an expert group of the European Commission, is of the opinion that the perspective established by the EU Strategy 2021-2025 – a balanced, human rights-based approach to drug policy – needs to be improved at the EU level and in member states.



Read the position paper here and from the ‘Materials’ widget

(1) This paper is not supported by the following CSFD members: Celebrate Recovery, Comunità San Patrignano Società
Cooperativa Sociale, EURAD and WFAD
(2) More about the 2016 UNGASS is available at
(9) See: A/HRC/30/65
(10) See: E/C.12/NOR/CO/6, p. 43
(11) See: A/HRC/42/39/ADD.1
(12) See: A/65/255


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