In a recent editorial, the authoritative British Medical Journal (BMJ) called the War on Drugs a failure, saying the effectiveness of prohibition laws must be judged on results.

“And too often the war on drugs plays out as a war on the millions of people who use drugs, and disproportionately on people who are poor or from ethnic minorities and on women,” the editorial reads.

Prohibition laws, argued the BMJ, have failed to curb either supply or demand, reduce addiction, cut violence or reduce profits for organized crime.

It noted that the ban on production, supply, possession and use of some drugs for non-medical purposes was causing huge harm.

“There is an imperative to investigate more effective alternatives to criminalization of drug use and supply,” the BMJ continued.

Drug use has grown substantially, with a quarter of a billion adults worldwide, or 1-in-20, have taken illegal drugs such as cannabis, cocaine or heroin in 2014, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

The BMJ pointed out that some countries have already removed criminal penalties for personal drug possession—with successful results.

For example, Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001 and replaced criminal sanctions with civil penalties and health interventions.

After 15 years, Portugal’s health-centered approach has demonstrated that drug decriminalization, combined with treatment and harm reduction services, can significantly improve public safety and health. Studies show there has been no major increase in drug use in Portugal, HIV/AIDS has decreased and there is a steep decline in drug-related incarceration rates.

Referring to other countries such as Canada, Uruguay and now numerous U.S. states that have recently legalized medical and recreational marijuana, the BMJ called on medical professionals to step up to the plate.

“Doctors and their leaders 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 BMJ explained. “Change is coming, and doctors should use their authority to lead calls for pragmatic reform informed by science and ethics.”

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