Intended for healthcare professionals


Drug legalisation

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 21 August 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5233
  1. Michael Farrell, director
  1. 1National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Australia, UNSW Sydney, NSW 2052 Australia
  1. michael.farrell{at}

International drug control treaties need to allow for policy experiments

The failure of the “war on drugs” is a standard presumption in most discussions of drug law reform. It has recently received impressive endorsement by high profile advocates, including retired senior statesmen (for example, George Schultz) and leading financiers and business people such as George Soros and Richard Branson.1 However, reports of prohibition’s failure—like those of Mark Twain’s death—may be exaggerated.

Recent changes in the laws on cannabis in Uruguay and the states of Colorado and Washington have garnered mass headlines globally. Are these harbingers of global defection from current international treaties that require UN member states to prohibit the use of drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine?

An impressive thinktank report from the London School of Economics has echoed recent calls for a radical overhaul of international drug treaties.1 However, the report is more nuanced than a simple call for their repeal. As some contributors make clear, drug legalisation is not a master stroke in dealing with complex, global drug markets. Legalisation does …

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