War on Drugs

The BMJ Joins The Lancet in Supporting Drug Legalization

The venerable British medical journal urges governments to "investigate more effective alternatives to criminalisation of drug use and supply."



Last March a panel of experts organized by The Lancet condemned the war on drugs and recommended that countries "move gradually towards regulated drug markets." This week another esteemed British medical journal, The BMJ, followed suit, urging governments to "investigate more effective alternatives to criminalisation of drug use and supply."

The BMJ editorial notes that consumption of psychoactive substances is an ancient and persistent aspect of human behavior and that attempts to suppress it have had horrendous consequences, including crime driven by artificially high drug prices, promotion of blood-borne diseases, deaths linked to unpredictable potency and unreliable quality, and "appalling violence" in countries such as Mexico and the Philippines. "Too often the war on drugs plays out as a war on the millions of people who use drugs," the editors say, "and disproportionately on people who are poor or from ethnic minorities and on women."

In response to these costs, says The BMJ, "many countries have removed criminal penalties for personal drug possession," while "jurisdictions such as Canada, Uruguay, and several US states, now including California, have gone further, to allow regulated non-medical cannabis markets, retaking control of supply from organised crime." Because doctors "have ethical responsibilities to champion individual and public health, human rights, and dignity and to speak out where health and humanity are being systemically degraded," the editors argue, they "should use their authority to lead calls for pragmatic reform informed by science and ethics."

Addendum: Stephen Rolles, a senior analyst at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation in the U.K., notes that BMJ Editor in Chief Fiona Godlee signaled her support for drug legalization back in 2010, when Rolles wrote a antiprohibition essay for the journal. "He says, and I agree, that we must regulate drug use, not criminalise it," Godlee wrote at the time.