The inaugural edition of the Global Drug Policy Index (GDPI), released on 8 November 2021 by the International Drug Policy Consortium, ranks Norway, New Zealand, Portugal, the UK and Australia as the five leading countries on humane and health-driven drug policies.

The Global Drug Policy Index is a unique accountability tool that documents, measures and compares national-level drug policies. It provides each country with a score from 0 to 100, where 100 represents full alignment of a selected core of drug policies and their implementation with the United Nations recommendations on human rights, health and development, as laid down in the UN System Common Position on drugs. The first iteration of the GDPI evaluates the performance of 30 countries covering all regions of the world, for the year 2020.

The Index is composed of 75 indicators that run across five dimensions:

  • The absence of extreme sentencing and responses to drugs, such as the death penalty.
  • The proportionality of criminal justice responses to drugs.
  • Funding, availability, and coverage of harm reduction interventions.
  • Availability of international controlled substances for pain relief.
  • Development.

The GDPI is a project of the Harm Reduction Consortium, a global partnership of civil society and community networks aiming to challenge the global ‘war on drugs’. The development of the Index methodology was led by the Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO) at Swansea University.  Based in the School of Social Science, the GDPO is an impact-oriented research centre that aims to promote evidence and human rights-based drug policy through the comprehensive and rigorous reporting, monitoring and analysis of policy developments at national and international levels.  The Index development was led by Professor David Bewley-Taylor, GDPO Director, and Dr Matthew Wall, GDPO Associate Member.

The five lowest-ranking countries in the Index are: Brazil, Uganda, Indonesia, Kenya, and Mexico.

The key takeaways from the report are:

1. The global dominance of drug policies based on repression and punishment has led to low scores overall, with a median score of just 48/100, and the top-ranking country (Norway) only reaching 74/100.

2. Standards and expectations from civil society experts on drug policy implementation vary from country to country.

3. Inequality is deeply seated in global drug policies, with the top-ranking 5 countries scoring.

3 times as much as the lowest ranking five countries. This is in part due to the colonial legacy of the ‘war on drugs’ approach.

4. Drug policies are inherently complex: a country’s performance in the Index can only be fully understood by looking across and within each of the dimensions.

5. Drug policies disproportionately affect people marginalised based on their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.

6. There are wide disparities between state policies and how they are implemented on the ground.

7. With a few exceptions, the meaningful participation of civil society and affected communities in drug policy processes remains severely limited.

Dr Matthew Wall, Head of Swansea’s Department of Politics, Philosophy and International Relations and Associate Member of the GDPO, which led on the development of the Index methodology, said: “Alongside analyses of states’ laws and existing data, the index incorporates the perceptions of 371 experts from civil society of how drug policies are playing out on the ground in 30 countries across the world. The weighting system used to drive the Index captures responses from an array of world-leading international experts in drug policy analysis. This is the key contribution of the index; it captures a huge volume of information to produce transparent and comparable data focused on people’s experiences of drug policy in action.”

Professor David Bewley-Taylor, GDPO Director, said: “As the first ever composite index within the field of drug policy, it is our hope that the GDPI will initiate constructive debate, encourage governments to evaluate policies in a nuanced yet holistic manner, and ultimately lead to wide-spread engagement with evidence based approaches that align with UN recommendations on health, human rights and development.”

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