Released today: new Count the Costs briefing on alternatives to the war on drugs

“The United Nations should exercise its leadership, as is its mandate … and conduct deep reflection to analyze all available options, including regulatory or market measures, in order to establish a new paradigm that prevents the flow of resources to organized crime organizations.” 

President Santos of Colombia, President Calderon of Mexico,
and President Molina of Guatemala,
Statement to the General Assembly of the United Nations, October 2012


For over 50 years the war on drugs has dominated drug policy. As detailed elsewhere on this site, this punitive approach has failed to achieve its stated goals, instead generating huge costs. Released today, the latest Count the Costs briefing outlines possible alternatives to the disastrous war on drugs.

The drug war undermines public health and human rights, creates crime, fuels stigma and discrimination, damages the environment, and creates obstacles to development and security – all at huge financial expense. The need to meaningfully explore alternative approaches is therefore not only rational, but an urgent necessity.

This need is now being acknowledged at the highest levels. Where once global leaders were silent on the need to look at alternatives, they are now speaking out. Earlier this month, three incumbent presidents – of Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala – took their call to explore alternative approaches to the United Nations, the very institution that enforces the global war on drugs.

There are a range of alternative policy models available, from increasingly punitive “zero-tolerance” enforcement, through various harm reduction strategies and options for decriminalisation of possession and use, to models for the legal regulation of drug production and supply. While some of these have been explored, others remain largely speculative, but clearly different policy models will be needed to address the challenges of different drugs, populations and environments.

The Count the Costs initiative is not prescriptive about which approach, or combination of approaches, will work best in any given scenario. Rather, as a group of individuals and NGOs with shared concerns around the failings of the war on drugs, it seeks to encourage a meaningful exploration of the options, informed by the best possible evidence and analysis.