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Help treat drug use as a public health issue

This petition had 12,122 supporters

In 2001, Portugal eliminated criminal penalties for drug users, choosing instead to treat drug use as a health issue. By prioritizing protecting people's health and human rights over punishing substance use, overdose deaths and drug-related incarceration have been all but eliminated, rates of HIV and hepatitis C infection have fallen sharply, and problematic drug use has actually dropped!

Punishing and stigmatizing people who use drugs often does more harm than the drugs themselves. It keeps people from accessing the rehabilitation and medical treatment they may need, fuels HIV and hepatitis C epidemics, robs them of economic opportunities, and contributes to overdose deaths.

The "War on Drugs" has failed. Levels of drug use and production are higher than ever: the United Nations estimates 250 million people use drugs annually, up by nearly 20% from just seven years ago. Over the past 50 years, countries have wasted trillions of dollars attempting to stop illegal drug use by relying overwhelmingly on punishment, police and prisons. This approach isn't a war on drugs — it's a war on people, with racial and ethnic minorities, women, youth, and the poor being disproportionately caught in the crosshairs.

This could change. World leaders will gather at the United Nations in New York in April 2016 to debate global drug policy. This meeting, called UNGASS 2016, could be an incredible opportunity to support and spread effective models for ending the criminalization of people who use drugs and increasing public health and harm reduction services. Ever more countries are integrating elements of this approach, including Switzerland, Ireland and even the United States.

United Nations agencies including the World Health Organization, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNICEF, UNAIDS, the UN Development Program, UN Women, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have all advocated this approach. So has the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a collective of world leaders including former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former heads of state of Mexico, Portugal, Greece, and other nations. Even current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has expressly supported decriminalization of drug use!

But despite the international momentum, there are serious roadblocks to ending the criminal treatment of drug users. Some nations seem intent on blocking reform, and have made the lead-up to this meeting less inclusive and transparent than the UN intended. Securing this outcome won't just take outside endorsements — it will require strong leadership from the UN Secretary General and other key officials to guide negotiations.

That's why we're calling on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UNGASS Chair Khaled Shamaa to encourage the UN General Assembly to endorse the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use. Please sign our petition to ensure a safer and healthier future for all.

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