How can the lens of human rights provide a new perspective on drug control and point to different ways of regulating drug consumption?

  • Melissa Bone

Student thesis: Phd


When exploring the interplay between drug policy and human rights, commentators tend to adopt a harm reductionist approach, and centre their research on rectifying the vast amount of human rights violations carried out in the name of drug control. These violations include the use of the death penalty, the infliction of torture, and the denial of basic healthcare, to name but a few. Though this approach ameliorates some of the worst effects resulting from prohibition, a harm reductionist approach can only ever perpetuate the current regime. The thesis puts forth an alternative human rights perspective, one which explores the human rights of individuals to consume psychoactives, to challenge the moral hegemony of the global drug regime and prohibitionist logic. Part I (Chapters 1-3) comprehensively challenges the value of 'human rights' on a philosophical, political, legal and institutional basis- to appreciate their capacity to provide a new perspective on drug control. Part I concludes that: human rights are conceptually broad living instruments, capable of reflecting the complex reality of human psychoactive usage; human rights can better address the State/individual binary which is identified to be at the crux of drug policies and; human rights and drug control regimes are legally compatible. This bona fide human rights perspective is then applied to Part II (Chapters 4-5), which employs health and religious rights as conceptual starting points, to demonstrate how human rights could improve the drug control framework, and how the lens of human rights can point to different ways of regulating drug consumption. The broader regulatory implications resulting from this unique perspective call for an application of human rights which moves beyond medical and traditional prohibitive paradigms, to integrate broader categorisations such as 'human flourishing'. This broader perspective accounting for pleasure, well-being and spirituality etc. would more thoroughly appreciate the often interconnected nature, and significance an individual accords their drug use. The thesis also concludes that drug policy is inherently political, and through centring upon the relationship between the State and the individual, a human rights perspective can comprehensively unpack the moral arguments involved. By introducing normative thinking in this sphere, as well as presenting the empirical evidence when weighing up the benefits and harms from psychoactives, a more open-minded, transparent approach to the issue of drug control can be adopted. Analysing (predominately) domestic and international case law which explores the conflict between the human rights and the drug control regimes, finally demonstrates that human rights have a transformative capacity to alter the drug control system, even while operating within the prevailing prohibitionist paradigm. The medical cannabis cases, and the religious exemptions for peyote and ayahuasca particularly demonstrate this, and give credence to the notion that the global regime of drug control is beginning to fall apart. Ultimately, this thesis uses the lens of human rights to provide a new perspective and direction to the issue of drug control.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJavier Garcia Oliva (Supervisor) & Toby Seddon (Supervisor)


  • Drug Policy
  • Human Rights

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