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

  • R Fellingham
  • A Dhai
  • Y Guidozzi
  • J Gardner


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.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1999-7639