The relationship between drug control policy and human development is complex and multifaceted. Yet policies aimed at prohibiting and punishing the use of certain drugs have played a disproportionate role in shaping the international approach to drug control and country responses, irrespective of countries’ development goals. While drug control policies have been justified by the real and potential harms associated with illicit drug production, trafficking, and use (e.g., threats to safety and security, health problems, crime, decreased productivity, unemployment, and poverty), evidence shows that in many countries, policies and related enforcement activities focused on reducing supply and demand have had little effect in eradicating production or problematic drug use. As various UN organizations have observed, these efforts have had harmful collateral consequences: creating a criminal black market; fuelling corruption, violence, and instability; threatening public health and safety; generating large-scale human rights abuses, including abusive and inhumane punishments; and discrimination and marginalization of people who use drugs, indigenous peoples, women, and youth.

There is widespread recognition from several quarters, including UN Member States and entities and civil society, of the collateral harms of current drug policies, and that new approaches are both urgent and necessary. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has stated that the UN drug conventions do not require penalization of drug use or drug possession for personal use and acknowledged the role of human rights abuses against people who use drugs in fuelling HIV (UNODC, 2014; UNODC, 2012). UNODC Executive Director Yuri Fedotov has encouraged UN Member States to use the upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs and other high level meetings as opportunities to discuss ways to rebalance international drug control policy responses to focus on health and respect for human rights, and address stigma and discrimination that limits access to services by people who use drugs (UNODC, 2013).

The United Nations System Task Force on Transnational Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking was established in March 2011 to develop an effective, coordinated, and comprehensive system-wide approach to respond to crisis situations of high levels of drug related crime and violence, and to provide guidance on how to integrate responses to transnational organized crime into UN peacekeeping, peacebuilding, security and development initiatives. The Task Force has been given the mandate to develop a strategy for broader UN input from all relevant UN agencies into UNGASS 2016.

Drug control policy affects almost every aspect of UNDP’s areas of work. As a member of the Task Force, UNDP remains committed to offering a perspective on the impact of drug control policies on sustainable human development that can contribute to a more comprehensive and coherent UN system-wide approach to these issues at policy and programme levels.

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