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Council’s conclusions on the human rights-based approach to drug policies



On Thursday the 8th of December the Justice and Home Affairs Council of the European Union held its 3920th meeting. Ministers from all member states attended the meeting, Minister James Brown as the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, with responsibility for Law Reform and Youth Justice was in attendance from Ireland. The Council adopts legislation, in most cases together with the European Parliament, aimed at guaranteeing fundamental rights, ensuring the free movement of people across the EU and offering citizens a high level of protection. One of the outcomes of this meeting was the Council’s conclusions on the human rights-based approach to drug policies.



The document reaffirms the EU’s commitment to its Drug Strategy 2021-2025, the international legal framework of the global drug control regime, and international human rights laws. A key element of the EU’s drug strategy is reducing drug-related harm, which includes providing alternatives to coercive sanctions, addressing stigmatisation linked to drug consumption, and ensuring voluntary-based services are accessible, all of which are to be guided by evidence-based best practices. This is bolstered by the 2018 Council conclusion on alternatives to coercive sanctions, which stresses the need for EU Member States to provide and apply alternative measures to coercive sanctions while also focusing on reducing health-related harms and minimising social risks.



The document acknowledges the right of member states to design their own national drug policies to suit their needs while reaffirming the need for an alternative to coercive sanctions for personal possession. With more and more countries moving towards reform of their drug policies to include decriminalisation and legalisation in some countries, it is no surprise the latest statement from the EU is urging countries to examine their drug policy and its future. Although this attitude from the EU is not new, it was previously announced at UNGASS 2016, it is the first time it has been cemented in writing.



While hailed by some as a paradigm shift in EU drug policy, human rights have featured heavily in the drug policy conversation at a European level. The previous drug strategy (2013-2020) championed a human rights approach to “the drug phenomenon”. What difference this document will make will need to be reassessed in the new year.



Countries are moving to reform their approach to cannabis across Europe, Germany is due to release its draft cannabis bill in the new year, the Czech Republic will also move alongside Germany to legalise cannabis, and Luxembourg is also working its way towards cannabis legalisation. This document along with others will be a welcomed boost to the move to reform in Europe. While no immediate change will be evident, it will make 2023 an exciting year of reform across Europe.

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