Drugs and Human Rights

For decades, governments have criminalized the use of drugs, as well as their possession, production, and distribution. They have poured billions of dollars into pursuing, killing, prosecuting, extraditing, and imprisoning kingpins, dealers, and people who use drugs. 

Yet, as Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented, this approach to drug policy has had devastating human rights consequences: undermining the rights to health and privacy; serving as an excuse for grossly disproportionate punishment, torture, and extrajudicial killings; and fueling the operations of organized criminal groups that commit abuses, corrupt authorities, and undermine the rule of law.

Human Rights Watch calls on governments to decriminalize all personal use and possession of drugs. We also urge governments to adopt alternative policies concerning the drug trade to reduce the enormous human rights costs of current approaches, including by reducing the use of the criminal law to regulate drug production and distribution. And we call for reform to global drug treaties and policies that impede exploration of these alternatives.

  • October 12, 2016 Report

    The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States

    illustration of many people in hand cuffs
  • June 30, 2014 Report

    Evidence-Based Treatment for Drug Dependence at the United States Veterans Administration Department of Veterans Affairs

    A US military veteran prepares to take his medication at Central Union Mission, in Washington, DC, which provides shelter for homeless men, on November 28, 2011.
  • December 11, 2013 Report

    State Response to Sex Workers, Drug Users and HIV in New Orleans

     A woman arrested for prostitution in New Orleans, April 2011.