Around the world the so called ‘war on drugs’ is collapsing. Many countries are replacing the prohibition of illicit drugs, with new approaches which prioritise and protect people’s health and wellbeing. Whilst reform is underway, it is not happening nearly fast enough or reaching far enough. The prohibitionist criminal justice approach that has dominated drug policy for the past 50 years continues to destroy livelihoods and claim lives. The people most affected aren’t those in charge of the drugs trade. Instead, it’s those caught up at the lowest levels in a trade that is destroying their lives and communities, particularly in the global south. Prohibition has failed to reduce the world’s supply of illicit drugs.
Meanwhile the heavy handed and often militarised law enforcement approach that often goes with it – directed primarily at those involved at the lowest level in the production and supply of illicit drugs – has fueled poverty, inequality, corruption and violence. This is felt most sharply by marginalised communities and women who engage in the small-scale trade out of necessity or lack of alternatives. In these contexts of significant vulnerability, powerlessness and poverty, the drugs trade can offer a decent income or means of survival, where no other exists.