As well as directly affecting the lives of those who take them and society in general, drugs have a significant impact on political discourse in virtually all countries.
In the 20th Century the scale of the drug problem and its worldwide reach was realised by many political leaders. This led to the introduction of many domestic and international laws aimed at tackling the problem at user, street, distribution and production level.
Many nations have signed up to key United Nations treaties, including the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), the Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) and the Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988).
But these and other key laws developed by individual countries at national level have had to be constantly amended and revised over the years, to account for new drugs and to close loopholes that have been exploited by drug users and dealers. This, and the considerable amount of attention that has to be given to the after effects of drug use and distribution, leads to a substantial amount of political time and resources being spent on drug-related problems.
The drug problem has also split political discourse in some countries. Some politicians and lobbyists argue that a relaxation of certain drug use laws would lower the socio-economic cost. They believe that a greater focus on treatment for drug users would be of more benefit than prohibition laws that lead to imprisonment.
On the other side of the debate, some politicians are in favour of strengthening drug laws, committing more resources to enforcement, and taking a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to drug use and distribution.