The Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies aims to stimulate the debate around legislative reforms by highlighting good practices and lessons learned in areas such as decriminalization, proportionality of sentences, specific harm reduction measures, alternatives to incarceration, and scheduling criteria for different substances. It also aims to encourage a constructive dialogue amongst policy makers, multilateral agencies and civil society in order to shape evidence-based policies that are grounded in the principles of human rights, public health and harm reduction.

  • Drugs, crime and punishment

    Proportionality of sentencing for drug offences
    Gloria Lai
    Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 20
    June 2012

    Proportionality is one of the key principles of the rule of law aiming to protect people from cruel or inhumane treatment. The principle has been established in interna­tional and regional human rights agree­ments and many countries have adopted reflections of it in their constitution or penal code. Its applica­tion to drug-related offences is firstly the responsibility of the legislators, in defining the level of penalisa­tion of certain behaviours. The level of penalisation should be deter­mined according to the severity of damage that a certain behaviour causes to others or to society.

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  • Towards revision of the UN drug control conventions

    The logic and dilemmas of Like-Minded Groups
    Dave Bewley-Taylor
    Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 19
    March 2012

    Recent years have seen a growing unwillingness among increasing numbers of States parties to fully adhere to a strictly prohibitionist reading of the UN drug control conventions; the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (as amended by the 1972 Protocol), the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances; and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

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  • The Limits of Latitude

    The UN drug control conventions
    Dave Bewley-Taylor Martin Jelsma
    Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 18
    March 2012

    Faced with a complex range of drug related problems, a growing number of nations are exploring the development of nationally appropriate policies that shift away from the prohibition-oriented approach that has long dominated the field but is losing more and more legitimacy. In so doing, such countries must pay close attention to the UN based global drug control framework of which practically all nations are a part.

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  • Chewing over Khat prohibition

    The globalisation of control and regulation of an ancient stimulant
    Axel Klein Martin Jelsma Pien Metaal
    Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 17
    January 2012

    In the context of a fast changing and well documented market in legal highs, the case of khat (Catha edulis) provides an interesting anomaly. It is first of all a plant-based substance that undergoes minimal transformation or processing in the journey from farm to market. Secondly, khat has been consumed for hundreds if not thousands of years in the highlands of Eastern Africa and Southern Arabia. In European countries, khat use was first observed during the 1980s, but has only attracted wider attention in recent years.

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    application-pdfPersverklaring (PDF in Dutch)

  • 'Legal highs'

    The challenge of new psychoactive substances
    Adam Winstock and Chris Wilkins
    Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 16
    October 2011

    This paper aims to set out some of the policy and public health issues raised by the appearance of a wide range of emergent psychoactive substances of diverse origin, effect and risk profile (commonly referred to as ‘legal highs’). It will start by considering what is meant by the term ‘legal highs’ and consider the historical context that has framed their appearance and must inform any response. It will then consider some of the approaches that have been adopted by different nations to control their availability and associated harms, including a preliminary assessment of their consequences, both intended and not.

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  • How to determine personal use in drug legislation

    The “threshold controversy” in the light of the Italian experience
    Grazia Zuffa
    Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 15
    August 2011

    Distinguishing between drug possession for personal use and supply and trafficking is widely acknowledged as one of the most difficult and controversial issues facing drug legislators and policy makers. To address the problem, two solutions are typically enacted: the threshold scheme and the "flexible" model.

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    Versione italiana (PDF)

  • Conviction by Numbers

    Threshold Quantities for Drug Policy
    Genevieve Harris
    Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 14
    May 2011

    Threshold quantities (TQs) for drug law and policy are being experimented with across many jurisdictions. States seem attracted to their apparent simplicity and use them to determine, for example, whether: a possession or supply offence is made out (e.g. Greece); a matter should be diverted away from the criminal justice system (e.g. Portugal); or a case should fall within a certain sentencing range (e.g. UK).

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  • Kratom in Thailand

    Decriminalisation and Community Control?
    Pascal Tanguay
    Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 13
    April 2011

    In early 2010, the Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) developed a policy proposal to review different aspects of the criminal justice process in relation to drug cases. The possibility of decriminalising the indigenous psychoactive plant, kratom, was included in the ONCB’s proposal for consideration by the Ministry of Justice.  This briefing paper provides an overview of issues related to kratom legislation and policy in Thailand as well as a set of conclusions and recommendations to contribute to a reassessment of the current ban on kratom in Thailand and the region.


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  • Fifty Years of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs: A Reinterpretation

    David Bewley-Taylor Martin Jelsma
    Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 12
    March 2011

    This year marks the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, signed on 30 March 1961. 73 countries were represented at the conference that took place in New York from 24 January to 25 March 1961, which sought to lay a new solid foundation for drug control in the post-war United Nations era. The aim was to replace the multiple existing multilateral treaties in the field with a single instrument as well as to reduce the number of international treaty organs concerned with the control of narcotic drugs, and to make provisions for the control of the production of raw materials of narcotic drugs. The Single Convention entered into force on 13 December 1964, having met the requirement of forty state ratifications.

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  • Lifting the ban on coca chewing

    Bolivia’s proposal to amend the 1961 Single Convention
    Martin Jelsma
    Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 11
    March 2011

    January 31 marked the close of the 18-month period during which countries could submit objections to Bolivia’s proposal to remove from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs the obligation to abolish the practice of coca chewing.

    A total of eighteen countries formally notified the UN Secretary General that they could not accept the proposed amendment: the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Russian Federation, Japan, Singapore, Slovakia, Estonia, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico and Ukraine.

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