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The ‘war on drugs’ has failed: Is decriminalisation of drug use a solution to the problem in South Africa?

R K Fellingham, A Dhai, Y Guidozzi, J Gardner

Abstract


This article engages in the debate surrounding decriminalisation of drug use and whether this is a possible solution to the problem of drug use in South Africa – a question becoming more prevalent in global discussions about drug policy and its efficacy.
We argue that two aspects must be addressed when evaluating a policy: its philosophical justification and its efficacy. We find that criminalising drugs may be justified by the public harm principle, but it does not effectively achieve the purpose of preventing and decreasing drug use and associated burdens. Thus, we argue that prohibition is a constitutional limitation, but does not necessarily achieve its purpose in the least repressive or most effective way.
Finally, we suggest that a solution to the drug problem will have to address the health needs of the drug user and the context, particularly socio-economic, of drug use. Decriminalisation could theoretically do this by changing society’s perception of drug users, thus helping to promote a human rights-based, public health-orientated approach to the drug problem in South Africa.

Authors' affiliations

R K Fellingham, Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

A Dhai, Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Y Guidozzi, Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

J Gardner, Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

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Keywords

Drug policy; Substance use; Decriminalization; Harm Principle

Cite this article

South African Journal of Bioethics and Law 2012;5(2):78-82. DOI:10.7196/SAJBL.219

Article History

Date submitted: 2012-05-25
Date published: 2012-11-23

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