When some of the world’s poorest people are denied basic rights such as land, access to credit and social protection, it is no surprise they turn to cultivating illicit crops in order to survive, but it’s a mistake when they are criminalised.

According to the latest estimates, the global value of the illicit drug market could be between $300 and $600billion a year. Globally, opium production has doubled since the turn of the century. The UN has emphasised that the production of opium and manufacture of cocaine today are ‘at the highest levels ever recorded’.

By any measure, this is a failure of decades of counter narcotic policy. Responses to drugs have varied, from those that seek alternative development, harm reduction to the extreme measures of the “war on drugs”.

The two pillars of the “war on drugs” – the eradication of illicit crops and the militarisation of the fight against drug gangs – have both been a disaster.

Crop eradication has led to deforestation and people losing their homes, while doing little to reduce cultivation levels. Aerial fumigation – the spraying of carcinogenic chemicals on illicit crops – has damaged people’s health and their environment. And the use of the military in law enforcement operations has led to egregious human rights abuses.

There have been an estimated 27,000 extrajudicial killings in the Philippines related to President Duterte’s war on drugs. In 33 jurisdictions globally, drugs users are executed. In Colombia in 2017 and 2018, 47 members of a peasant farmers’ movement – which gives cultivators of illicit crops a voice – their activism in promoting more humane public policies on illicit crops.