‘Support. Don’t Punish’ – it’s a simple message, isn’t it? When we see someone in need, our instinct is to usually help, so why do we have global drug laws which harm those who may simply need support?

To coincide with The United Nations' International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (26 June), a day that has often been marked with major human rights violations such as public executions and beheadings, a new global campaign was launched in 2013: ‘Support. Don’t Punish’ aims to raise awareness for the urgent need to reform of our global drug laws and our attitudes towards those who use drugs. Around 41 cities held events worldwide to spread the message of reform in this first year of action. 

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In June 2017, thousands of people across 205 cities in 93 countries took part in the fifth global day of action for the Support Don’t Punish campaign, all voices calling for an end to the war on drugs. With a mix of concerts, seminars, large scale public protests, street art, sports matches, and not to mention meetings with policy makers, the ‘Support. Don’t Punish’ more than lived up to its name and demonstrated its innovation in outreach.

India played host to a 470-kilometre motorcycle outreach tour. In Mauritius, there was a silent protest in front of Parliament and meetings with religious leaders. In many other cities across the world, dedicated groups and individuals took shared the Support Don’t Punish message whilst engaging with their community. Street art also took centre stage to make a unique and striking statement of solidarity.

Spoken word artist Shareefa Energy performed what is a perfect summary of why we need drug law reform. In her four minute piece, written in solidarity with Support. Don’t Punish, Shareefa lyrically conveys the many of harms caused by our punitive drug laws. From racial disparity, to the number of drug overdoses in Europe with one in three recorded in the UK, there are so many overlapping ways in which our drug laws harm societies and individuals. Shareefa also uses her powerful lyrics to point out that over 7,000 people have now been murdered in the Philippines through President Duterte’s extra judicial killings. 

Also lending weight to the Support. Don’t Punish campaign is the Global Commission on Drug Policy. This eminent group of 23 world leaders, including Kofi Annan, former president of Switzerland Ruth Dreifuss, and Richard Branson, was established in 2011 to advocate for reform of our drug laws using the best available evidence. Their endorsement of the Support. Don’t Punish message demonstrates that international policy makers of past and present stand shoulder to shoulder with grassroots activists in the pursuit of a humane approach.

The issues surrounding our drug laws are disparate and diverse. The Elton John AIDS Foundation also supported this year’s campaign, making the case that people who use drugs are 28 times more likely to be living with HIV than those in general population. They go on to state that new HIV infections among this group rose by 33 per cent and this is why the foundation is committed to supporting those who use drugs.

The Support. Don’t Punish campaign is more than just an awareness drive, it’s a carnival-style, international day of action, imbued with positivity. In the face of potential hardship and often threats of reprisal due to our drug policies, those who come together to challenge international drug laws do so with art, creativity, and with celebration. This global day of action amply displays just how much momentum there is for a rethink on our drug laws and attitudes; it’s easy to see that a well-established and innovative community exists to make a powerful case for change. 

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