From tax and debt, to trade and climate change – if we are serious about addressing poverty and poor health then we cannot shy away from addressing complex and controversial issues. Drug policy cannot be ignored if we are serious about dealing with the root causes of poverty, not just the symptoms.
What’s the alternative to prohibition?
We need to offer political support to countries who want to move away from prohibition to legal regulation. Legally regulating drugs means making them safer, controlling who has access to them and where they can be sold. Legal regulation enables governments to do this, whereas under prohibition it is currently criminals who make these decisions.
We need to ensure that aid money is spent supporting harm reduction, and funding support for countries who want to reform their drugs policy, not enforcing drug policies that punish the most vulnerable and marginalised.
There are already good examples in the global south to signpost a way forward. Bolivia’s coca control programme has prioritised reducing the harm caused by militarised crop eradication, rather than simply stopping drug trafficking and production.
How countries move to legal regulation is important. There is no one set model for legal regulation – there is a spectrum of options. We have the opportunity to ensure reforms are implemented within a social justice model in collaboration with affected communities. At the same time, we can tackle those social and economic problems that drive people into the trade in the first place.
All new approaches need to include local communities in design and implementation making sure they are able to participate. They need to ensure public infrastructure and public services and be integrated with national development plans and programmes.
We will need new indicators to measure how drug policies affect poor and marginalised communities and their development, providing strong evidence and expertise for the most effective policies with sustainable development at their core.
A decade ago the UN agreed on an action plan to counter the ‘world drug problem’. This plan enforced prohibition, damaging the lives of people around the world.
In March 2019 they will review this plan. This is the time to demonstrate that prohibition has failed. Health Poverty Action will be attending this meeting to deliver the message that we need a global approach to the legal regulation of drugs that supports health and human rights.