To decolonize drugs, start with prohibition’s settler origins


To decolonize drugs, start with prohibition’s settler origins

6 June 2021
Filter Mag

By Umme Hoque

Drugs like opium and cannabis have been used in cultures around the world for millennia. Drug regulation, on the otherhand, arrived when settlers and colonizers did—particularly in African and Asian countries.

“Criminalization is a colonial legacy,” Tripti Tandon, deputy director with the Lawyers Collective, told Filter.

Lawyers Collective is one of the oldest human rights organizations in India. Tandon had just spoken on the impact of colonization on drug policy within the country during a May 26 panel hosted by Harm Reduction International, Release, Dejusticia, the International Drug Policy Consortium, the Transnational Institute, and Voices of Community Action & Leadership, Kenya. The panel, Decolonising Drug Policy: Dismantling Racism and Colonialism Through Drug Policy Reform, was the first of a four-part series. Speakers from India, South Africa and Kenya shared their experiences.

“The American experiment in drug prohibition … really became one of the flagship foreign policies of the USA,” said Kojo Koram, a lecturer at the Birkbeck School of Law, during the panel. “[It] had the consequences of actually reproducing, and in some cases accelerating, the racial and geographical divisions within the world.” Koram’s research points to implementation of drug prohibition and penalization policies as a way to “civilize” Indigenous peoples.