Four months ago, the Support. Don’t Punish campaign was chosen from over 800 initiatives to be one of 115 projects from across the globe profiled at the 2019 Paris Peace Forum (11-13 November), a platform to promote innovative solutions to peace and governance challenges.

As we continue to digest an intense 48 hours of stimulating exchanges and learning, I wanted to share just a few of the highlights that have made this experience so enriching for the Support. Don’t Punish team at the Forum, and potentially a watershed moment in the way governance discussions address drug policy reform.

This movement’s capacity to effect change is awe-inspiring and unstoppable

We were asked to present Support. Don’t Punish to Forum participants in less than 20 minutes (‘the Pitch’, in the Forum’s lingo). It sounds relatively straight-forward until one dives into what this campaign has achieved. Over the last seven years, we have seen more than 1,000 diverse and creative activities, delivered by hundreds of committed local partners, in 110 countries!

Squeezing years of collective experience, impact and growth, of capacity- and solidarity-building, of sweat, tears and joy, into just a few slides, was most definitely a challenge. But bearing witness to the bravery and resolve of the communities that lead our efforts on the ground was also a humbling privilege.

Throughout the event, we showcased experiences shared with us by Support. Don’t Punish campaigners far and wide. Our stand introduced Forum participants to community leaders like Natasa Nikolic (CAHMA), who co-organised “Paint it Orange!”, a women-led art exhibition launched on the last Global Day of Action ‘to tell different stories about us, different from what exists in the media’. Or like Ernesto Cortés (ACEID), who has taken the campaign’s message to universities, the Supreme Court and even the national Parliament.

These stories are inextricably weaved into the campaign’s common thread: strengthening a collective and global front of populations affected by the “war on drugs”, and their allies, to advance drug policies that are based on health, human rights and development.

The Emperor’s war on drugs’ new clothes

The urgency of this purpose was apparent at the Forum. And not only through the experience of the Support. Don’t Punish campaign. The Land of Peace Foundation highlighted the struggles of rural coca-leaf growers in the Colombian Cauca to see their traditional livelihood, and access to land, supported and formalised. Catalyst shed light on the exclusion of Latin American youth from drug policy discussions that directly affect their life outcomes. Positive Strategies shared their experience in providing HIV services in a context of criminalisation. And the Global Commission on Drug Policy presented a Model Drug Law for West Africa that offers a concrete, legally-robust, solution to drug policy governance in the region.

The farce of drug policies that purport to be concerned by the health and welfare of humankind while actually entrenching stigma and discrimination, and undermining peace and democracy, was unpicked by two well-attended thought-provoking panels. Questions related to accountability, exclusion, racism, gender equality, local governance, the HIV epidemic, palliative care and subsistence farmers added complexity and texture to a debate that is often caricatured, over-simplified, focused on substances, rather than on people.

And the response from the dozens of Forum attendees who joined the discussions, came to our stand [and joined the Photo Project!] made it very clear that the edifice of Prohibition is crumbling.

Colleagues working on justice, on environment, on youth participation, on peace-building, all came to know about our cause and discuss the many ways in which drug policies create obstacles to the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I will personally forever treasure the response by one of the Forum attendees who, after my explanation of the goals of the campaign, simply responded: ‘But that’s just common sense, isn't it?!’. It is our duty to awaken each other’s “common sense”, our natural inclination to compassion, respect and solidarity.

Finally, I cannot finish this account without acknowledging the incredibly exciting 10 projects that have been selected to be accompanied by the Paris Peace Forum’s Scale-Up Committee over the next year. Particularly because one of the projects selected, the Model Drug Law for West Africa, is close to our work and our hearts, has been developed by colleagues that we respect and admire, and bears with it the hopes of so many Support. Don’t Punish campaigners and affected communities in West Africa. Congratulations to all who made this happen!