A new report says that global drug policy over the last decade has failed demonstrably in curbing illegal drug markets or reducing drug production, underscoring the need for new strategies and raising questions about whether or not there is enough momentum to enact such change.
The study, published October 22 by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), says that a global action plan developed nearly a decade ago has failed to eliminate or significantly reduce global drug markets, and that the world’s drug policies “urgently need to be reconsidered.”
Over the last 10 years, global illicit poppy cultivation has increased by 130 percent while illicit coca cultivation around the world has increased 34 percent, the report found. Indeed, cocaine production in Colombia — the world’s top producer of the drug — has been on the rise since 2013, jumping 31 percent from 1,053 metric tons in 2016 to a record 1,379 in 2017, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
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As a result, the global drug market remains a billion dollar industry. The report estimated annual turnover from the world’s drug market at between $426 billion and $652 billion. But authorities only seize less than one percent of the illicit proceeds washed through various money laundering schemes, the report found.
The punitive nature of the world’s drug policy has also often “exacerbated violence, instability and corruption,” especially in Colombia and Mexico. Forced eradication campaigns in the Andean nation have led to violent clashes between security forces and affected communities, while a militarized war on drugs launched in Mexico in 2006 has contributed to more than 150,000 deaths and over 32,000 disappearances, the report found.
In addition, the report argues that these failed policies have had negative health consequences. Drug-related deaths around the world increased by more than 145 percent between 2011 and 2015, and the overall number of people who admitted to using drugs in 2016 was 31 percent higher than in 2011, according to the report.
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The IDPC report is just the latest call from international bodies to end punitive global drug control approaches and instead shift towards more progressive policies that put more of an emphasis on prevention and treatment.
In March of this year, the annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) stressed the need for a shift away from traditional anti-drug policies and urged countries to focus more on preventing and treating drug use. Later in June, the UNODC’s 2018 World Drug Report highlighted the need for “timely assessments” and “comprehensive approaches” to push back against the expanding global drug trade.
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The IDPC is calling for similar action. The authors of the report recommended the international community “move away from” punitive anti-drug approaches to eliminate the illegal drug market and shift to a more social justice approach to drug policy that puts people and communities at the center in order to improve their living conditions.
However, it remains to be seen if there is enough momentum brewing to take global drug policy in a new direction.
“For parts of the world, the train has left the station and we’re headed towards reform,” Sanho Tree, the Director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, told InSight Crime. “At the same time, larger global policies are polarizing at an incredible rate as well. More authoritarian regimes are moving in a different direction and using the drug war to repress people.”
Indeed, while countries like Canada and Uruguay have both made a push for more innovative drug policies like legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, Colombian President Iván Duque recently announced a decree effectively banning personal drug use and will return to the controversial aerial fumigation of illicit drug crops.