Highlighting the urgent need for global drug policy reform

Global Drug Policy Index
Global Drug Policy Index
Clare Kelly
by Clare Kelly
7 December 2021
Virgin Unite and Richard Branson have long highlighted how the global war on drugs has failed and drug policies need urgent reform - a new Global Drug Policy Index illustrates why.

As a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which has been supported by Virgin Unite, he and his fellow commissioners advocate for policies that treat drug use as a social and health challenge, not a crime.

Recently, the International Drug Policy Consortium, a leading advocate for policy reform, launched the first ever Global Drug Policy Index - a unique tool that documents, measures and compares national-level drug policies. The Index scores and ranks each country depending on the extent to which national drug policies and their implementation align with UN principles in the areas of human rights, health, and development.

The goal is for the Index to create an essential accountability and evaluation mechanism in the field of drug policy - based on 75 indicators covering five broad dimensions of drug policy. This first iteration evaluates the performance of 30 countries covering all regions of the world.

Global Commission on Drug Policy - Envisage the world after the war on drugs

According to former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, Chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy: “The Global Drug Policy Index is nothing short of a radical innovation. For decision-makers wishing to understand the consequences of drug control, as well as for those who seek to hold governments accountable, the Index sheds light on critical aspects of drug policies that have been historically neglected, such as the intersection of drug policy and development, or the differentiated impacts of drug law enforcement on ethnic groups, Indigenous peoples, women, and the poorest members of society.

“The end goal of the Index is to initiate constructive discussions about what needs to change, emphasise the importance of evidence and rights-based drug policies, and guide policy making priorities and reforms for the years to come.”

Key takeaways from the Global Drug Policy Index:

  • Inequality is deeply embedded in global drug policies, with the top-ranking five countries (Norway, New Zealand, Portugal, UK, Australia) scoring three times as much as the lowest ranking five countries (Mexico, Kenya, Indonesia, Uganda, Brazil). Higher rankings demonstrate stronger drug policy alignment with the recommendations from the UN report.

  • Drug policies disproportionately affect marginalised populations based on their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.

  • With a few exceptions, the meaningful participation of civil society and affected communities in drug policy processes remains severely limited.

Among other things, the report urges governments to end violence, arbitrary detention, forced crop eradication, extreme sentencing, and disproportionate penalties. The Index favours policies that improve access to health, medicines, and harm reduction services, while offering long-term development approaches for marginalised communities worldwide.

Everyone involved in the development of the Global Drug Policy Index hope it will become a critical accountability and evaluation tool for civil society, advocates, and policy makers alike - encouraging governments worldwide to urgently reform outdated and ineffective drug policies in order to protect the health and human rights of everyone in society.

To stay up to date on urgently needed drug policy reform please visit The Global Commission on Drug Policy and International Drug Policy Consortium.