This month negotiators met at the UN in New York to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs); government targets that will heavily influence policies through to 2030 and that will affect the lives of billions in the coming years. The SDGs are intended to address global challenges relating to our ability to survive and thrive on this planet, from climate change, poverty reduction, sustainable cities and disease prevention to functioning institutions of government. Done well, this could be transformative. But somehow (nobody seems to know how) a goal to rid the world of drug use has been included in the draft SDG document. This is harmful both for the aims of the SDGs and, given the lack of any transparency around its inclusion, for the credibility of the entire process.
The current draft includes a target to 'eliminate narcotic drug and substance abuse'. This is the essence of drug war rhetoric. But issue by issue, discipline by discipline, every canard, every straw man, every lie of the war on drugs has by now been exposed, including any pretense that a 'drug free world' is either possible or, given what it requires, a desirable goal to pursue. In fact, just as the UN negotiators were considering this target five Nobel Prize winning economists joined the growing chorus of community activists, experts and senior political figures calling for systemic change.
Aside from being a failure on its own terms (pick your indicator) the war on drugs has been a systematic human rights onslaught. It has eroded and crowded out constitutional values democratic societies should defend. It has fuelled urban violence and hindered peaceful resolution of conflicts. It has been a consistent barrier to development in producer nations. It has been a vector of disease and an economic catastrophe; billions poured down the sinkhole of tail-chasing drug enforcement at the expense of proven, life-saving harm reduction and treatment interventions.
To put it another way: the idea of a drug free world has produced and is producing effects that are anathema to everything the Sustainable Development Goals are supposed to stand for.
Now, there are some aspects of the draft SDGs that can be criticised as, for example, unachievable or immeasurable. But none are so directly harmful to the whole enterprise as this. So how did something so counterproductive make it in?
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