On April 17, representatives from the development sector gathered to discuss the negative impacts of current drug policies on impoverished populations, and the importance of bringing the development perspective to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on illicit drugs in 2016. Broadening civil society engagement by including the development sector at the UNGASS will emphasize the cross-sectoral nature of drug policy and bring more power in numbers. Martin Drewry of Health Poverty Action and Eric Gutierrez of Christian Aid presented on the importance of recognizing international drug policy as a pertinent development issue.
Drewry began the discussion by highlighting the impacts of law-enforcement led drug policies on poverty. Although the intersections of drug policy and development are abundant, Drewry focused on three key categories of negative outcomes. First, current prohibitionist drug policies undermine governance, and therefore breed activities common to states with weak institutional structures, such as corruption and human rights abuses. Second, the authority of governments is limited by the power of drug cartels, which inhibits the state’s ability to protect and provide services to their citizens. Third, limited financial resources are wasted globally on fighting the war on drugs - this unintended consequence, known as “policy displacement”, means that available resources are diverted from both public health and socio-economic programmes.
Gutierrez continued the conversation by presenting the work Christian Aid has been doing to increase their understanding of drug policies within the development context. He pointed out that those who grow illicit substances do so as a survival mechanism and make the decision at a household level. Restricted access to land, and lack of food security and other sources of income, leaves farmers and their families with no other choice. Gutierrez stressed the importance of going deep into understanding the local context and the “messy politics” in order to address illicit drug situations. Although the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) annually produced World Drug Report offers a comprehensive overview of the latest developments in drug markets, it is little more than an “impressive collection of snapshots.” Looking at illicit drug situations at one point in time is not useful without understanding the circumstances which led to the current situation, and projecting future scenarios. In order to enhance the collection of “messy politics” research in drug policy, Christian Aid is producing a series of case studies.
Jane Slater of Transform Drug Policy Foundation highlighted the failures of prohibition and made the case for regulating illicit markets. She echoed the concerns of the development sector, particularly those presented by Drewry and Gutierrez, regarding the distortion of development interventions by drug war objectives.
Jamie Bridge of IDPC then proceeded to provide an overview of the international drug control regime and the unique opportunity presented by the 2016 UNGASS to have an open debate about current drug policies and the way forward. For the development sector, the UNGASS is a crucial opportunity to advocate on an issue with so many ties to development and to the future of developing countries.
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