Biased historical classification of psychoactive substances has been a significant contribution to the world drug problem, according to a new report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP).
While drug classification remains the ‘cornerstone’ of the UN Conventions underpinning international drug control, it continues to be influenced by ideology, political gains and commercial interests, says Classification of psychoactive substances: when science was left behind.
The international classification of drugs now has little or no correlation to scientifically assessed harms and needs to be ‘urgently reviewed’, the document states. While drugs should be classed according to their potential for dependence and other harm this is ‘not the case today’, it says. The fact that substances such as alcohol are ‘culturally important’ means they are legally available, while others are strictly prohibited with ‘tragic consequences’ including executions, organised crime and blood-borne viruses.
The international community needs to recognise the ‘incoherence and inconsistencies’ in the drug scheduling system, it says, and launch a critical review. The commission is calling on governments to ensure that their classification systems are pragmatic and based on science and evidence, and also allow for ‘responsible legal regulatory models’ to control drugs.
‘The international system to classify drugs is at the core of the drug control regime – unfortunately that core is rotten,’ said GCDP chair and former president of Switzerland, Ruth Dreifuss. ‘Some drugs were evaluated up to eight decades ago – which does not represent current knowledge – and others have never been evaluated.’
‘The European colonial powers resisted the imposition of stricter prohibition because they had profitable monopolies in the trade of opium, coca and cannabis in their overseas territories,’ added former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso. ‘It was only when they “lost” their colonies and that trade that a global regime focused on prohibition was established under US pressure. Traditional uses of opium and coca were no longer profitable to the western world and therefore forbidden – often disregarding centuries-old practices and the cultures behind them, and criminalising the behaviour of millions of citizens.’