Harm reduction is the better way

2015-10-15 06:00

HARM reduction is a soft defection from the U.S.-led zero-tolerance approach to social ills.

Evidence shows that it reduces the risks of people engaged in high-risk behaviour, and that abstinence may be neither a realistic nor a desirable goal for some individuals. The more nations that engage in soft defection from the prohibition approach, the more certainty there is of critical mass and change occurring within the regime. Unlike any moves towards the legalisation of recreational drug use, the implementation of harm-reduction principles does not require any formal alteration of the provisions of any conventions nor full-blown defection from them. Nations can use the interpretative space within the treaties to reduce the suboptimal performance of some aspects of the regime, and better deal with the complexities of social ills within their own borders. Countries or states that are initially cautious to engage formally with interventions that are likely to be the focus of criticism from ardent defenders of the regime, find the political courage to follow a path trodden by other like-minded regime members based on robust first-hand evidence.

This reflects a straightforward safety-in-numbers hypothesis and, while the dynamic involves not establishing but challenging a dominant norm, it marks out longstanding harm-reductionist states such as the Netherlands and Australia as types of “norm leaders”.

CALVINGOVENDER

Chair: Spring-haven Seed Bank and HarmReduction Centre

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