Drug control policies have left an indelible footprint on human development. In many instances, they have fuelled the poverty, marginalization and exclusion of people and communities linked with illicit drug use or illicit drug markets. They have entrenched and exacerbated systemic discrimination against poor and the most marginalized populations and resulted in widespread human rights violations.

Involvement in drugs — whether its cultivation, production, sale or use — has traditionally been treated as a criminal problem, with the solution found through law enforcement. In recent years, there has been growing recognition that this vision is narrow and counterproductive. There has likewise been growing recognition that the connection between drugs and crime is not so straightforward and that drug control efforts focused on criminal law responses have had harmful ‘unintended’ consequences.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also identified illicit drugs and crime as a “severe impediment” to achieving sustainable development, as well as to securing human rights, justice, security and equality for all (UN, 2012). There has also been increased attention to the multidimensional relationship between drug control and development outcomes and to devastating consequences of drug control efforts on public health, security and development. As various UN organizations have observed, these efforts’ harmful collateral consequences include: 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 poor and the most marginalized populations, including people who use drugs, indigenous peoples, women and youth (UNDP, 2015; UNODC, 2008; OHCHR, 2014; WHO, 2011; UN Women, 2014; UNAIDS, 2014).

UNODC has recognized the “vicious cycle” of drug production, drug trafficking, poverty and instability, as well as the harmful consequences of drug control policies on the health and human rights of people who use drugs and those who live in communities where drugs are cultivated.

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