Home » Side event: Drug policy and sustainable development: Challenges and opportunities

Side event: Drug policy and sustainable development: Challenges and opportunities

Khalid Tinasti, GCDP | Focused on six principles developed by the Secretary General to frame SDGs.

Eric Gutierrez, ChristianAid | We published a report on Illicit Practices recently. We realised in many of the places where we worked, people survived thanks to the illicit economies. Drug lords were providing services that the States were not. Our case study on Afghanistan showed that opium is the biggest export of Afghanistan, and it provided 400,000 full-time jobs. It was financing the conversation of 255,000 desert land into agricultural lands. Our case study on Myanmar showed some drug lords were elected to Parliament. They’re often the democratic choice of the people, regardless of their criminality.

Illicit activities of this sort thrive in places that already harboured conditions for it. Lack of infrastructure, or exclusionary infrastructure (re: multinationals), places where there’s an excess in labour supply, they need to combine wages to make a living, …

This suggests approaches should take care of sequencing. Law enforcement might have to wait until the end…perhaps you start with building those roads that do not exist.


Natasha Horsfield, Health Povery Action | (Launch of the video on the harms of drug policy).

Drug policies directly impede the realisation of SDGs:

  • Drug control focused on eradication and law enforcement undermines progress in SDG1 & 2.
  • SDG 3 is also hindered by the unduly severe limitations to access to controlled medicines and harm reduction services.
  • SDG 15 is held back by the deforestation associated to powerful illicit markets that thrive on the black market & the use of chemicals by state authorities contamines land and water supplies.
  • The militarisation of law enforcement and increase of profits associated to the black market will make it difficult to achieve SDG 16.
  • SDG 17 s harmed by the misallocation of resources into overly repressive law enforcement approaches.

Summer Walker, Drug policy programme – UNU | Our November report invites to consider how traditional approaches to drug policy in developing countries are counterproductive. The AD model became the leading approach. But our report suggests this is outdated. In terms of scope, geography and policy coherence.

Scope: the approach does not account for the variety of ways in which drugs interact with development. Ex. distortion of governance along the supply change, funding gaps, etc.

Geography: major products in the illicit market are produced worldwide. Canada is the main producer of MDMA and methamphetamines. So focusing on ‘producer countries’ is wrong.

Policy coherence: in adopting the new SDGs, Member States accept moving beyond developed vs. developing countries logics. Development considerations concern all countries. All MS would benefit from mainstreaming development concerns into drug policy.

It’s fundamental to develop new metrics- For example, work between the Inter-agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators and the UN Statistical Office of the UN could lead to develop indicators useful to explore the impacts of drug policy in development. There should be a recognition that development should be central in development drug policy.


Coletta Youngers, WOLA | I have a very simple message: the voices of farmers of prohibited plants are hardly ever heard in these fora. We cannot define policy without including those most affected. Which is why we celebrate any intention of governments to include farmers in these discussions. Ex. Thai government on Alternative Development. Following that meeting in Jan, TNI organised the second global forum of producers of prohibited plants. The output was the Heemserk Declaration. We expect a representative of that group, a coca grower, to participate at the UNGASS.

Some of the highlights from the declaration and the event:

  • Removal of coca, cannabis and opium poppy from the Conventions.
  • Affected communities should be involved at all stages of policy making.
  • In case eradication is decided useful, proper sequencing and previous dialogue with farmers should be engaged.
  • Farmers and their families should not be prosecuted by criminal law and prosecuted against.

Anne Skjelmerud, Norwegian Development Agency, Norad | The MDGs could help us argue to pursue the low-hanging fruit. The SDGs ask us to think harder, deeper and leave no one behind. 400,000 full time jobs in Afghanistan! Carrots and cacao do not provide that kind of support.

Affected populations are people using drugs, close ones, but also producers and families.

We must thin comprehensive, also integrated. It is odd that we do not understand the issue of drug policy in the same ‘overarching’/’multi-sectorial’ way that we have come to understand HIV. Drug policy should not be siloed.



Sanho Tree | I visited an AD project in Colombia for heart of palm. It looked great until a farmer told us the factory had only been reopened for two days to show ‘it worked’. But it had been closed for six months. Farmers know there are severe issues of accountability.

Eric Gutierrez | We need to start expanding the agenda of AD, which has disproportionately focused on crop substitution.

Coletta Youngers | The issue of contractors is one that we rarely discuss. We give taxpayer dollars to companies carrying out these projects. 80% of the resources stay with them, very little ‘trickles down’ to farmers. Many projects were not designed to provide rural equitable development. Palm oil actually pushes people further into poverty and marginalisation.


Zara Snapp, GCDP |

Anne Skjelmerud | There’s hope and there is room for pessimism. My fear is that the MDGs were very precise, thus easier to realise. The invitation from the SDGs is to build resilient communities, to look at the big picture.

E. Gutierrez | There is also a point to be made about de-stigmatising farmers, and how their criminalisation hinders much needed dialogue.

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