By Sylvia Kay / The Ecologist

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has released a 2022 World Drug Report  that does connect drugs and the environment - for the first time.  

new report published today by the Transnational Institute (TNI) delves into the drugs-environment nexus with a particular focus on the three main illicit drug crops or ‘prohibited plants’: cannabis, coca and opium poppy.

Covering a range of cases from across the world, it examines the environmental impacts of these agrarian drug economies as well as the policy responses to them. These impacts are very real.

While these environmental harms are very real, the underlying drivers of these harms are more complicated than may at first be appreciated. What are now called ‘illicit drug crops' have been cultivated by Indigenous peoples and rural communities for centuries, if not millennia.

This was done without causing large-scale environmental destruction and they continue to be used in traditional ceremonies and practices as a local medicine. 

There are a number of shifts underway in the global drug regime, most notably in the case of cannabis. A growing number of countries around the world are moving towards a regulated market for medical and/or adult use. It is not necessarily the case that these regulated markets will improve environmental sustainability.  

There is a dire need for environmental justice in drug policy – and to put the issue of drug cultivation on the radar of environmental and climate organisations. This must be done with the active involvement of those who depend on illicit crops for their livelihoods.