Side event: The Economics of Global Drug Policy

John Collins, LSE Ideas | The Conventions are not innately repressive. The ‘scientific and medical uses’ can be interpreted in different ways and they have begun to be interpreted in open way.

Different policies, work in different times, in different places. Experimentation will fuel this incremental reform by providing evidence of what works.

Internationalism can be maintained as a mechanism to manage cost displacement, but we need to get better at it.

Jasmine Tyler, OSF | The US is experiencing a heroin epidemic. It would seem that public authorities are finally ready to respond. It is hard not to see how this wave of compassion is related to the fact that the epidemic is affecting white America.

African Americans did not immigrate to America, they were brought through slavery. After slavery, African Americans were the subject of the convict leasing system. Immediately after the end of the Jim Crow era, African Americans became the target of the War on Drugs.

African Americans are 3x to 6x more likely to be imprisoned for drug-related offences despite Black Americans do not sell or use drugs at a higher rate than White Americans.

The system of mandatory minima has disproportionately affected Black Americans. Laws on crack disproportionately affected Black Americans (80% imprisoned for crack were Black) despite use not being higher among African American communities.

In this generation, 40% of African American men might not vote; partly because of convictions, many of them drug related. If you have a drug conviction, it is unlikely you will easily find a job. It’s what has been called ‘The New Jim Crow’.

It doesn’t matter how many laws we change, it will take decades to undo the economic and civic consequences of drug policies.

Sergio Chaparro, Dejusticia | Responses criminalising drug users are often more hazardous for drug users themselves, regardless of their drug use being problematic. It contributes to stigmatisation and marginalisation. It keeps them away from health services and diminishes the possibility of them denouncing aggressions to the police. Criminalisation hinders and actively harms the enjoyment of the rights to health, information, personal autonomy and self-determination. The criminalisation of users pushes them to the black market.

Thresholds are often very low. Users are also kept detained while quantities are determined. Police forces have an incentive to go after drug possession, it is relatively easy to pursue and it bloats the police’s number of actions.

Javier Sagredo, UNDP | UNDP does not have a specific mandate on drugs but we are quite worried about the mounting evidence of drug policies on development. We have a new agenda for Sustainable Development, but their realisation will be difficult without reform on drug policy.

There’s increasing calls from UN agencies, civil society and governments to start discussing in order to come up with solutions.

The document Addressing the Development Dimensions of Drug Policy sought to give an overview of how drug policies negatively intersect with human development objectives and outcomes; to articulate the importance of human development in international norm-setting fora and domestic program delivery on drug control and policy; and to review key opportunities for UNDP to address the development dimensions of drug control policy. We are working with other UN agencies and governments to discuss these issues.

The impact on vulnerable individuals, families and communities is clearly disproportionate. It is also unequal in detriment of producing countries.

We need to put development first, find new metrics of success, encourage research and innovation, eliminate ill direct cause/effect equations.

Let’s abandon what harms, abandon what does not work, start doing what we know works and we don’t currently do.

Alexander Soderholm, LSE Ideas | In Iran, more than 880,000 people in treatment and harm reduction services; yet 321,491 cases of drug arrests related to possession. Most people I met through my work with problem drug users in Tehran are the subject of failures in terms of development. People lack access to services and are vulnerable to criminalisation. Growing up in marginalised and deprived communities is one of the main factors underlying dependence.

We need to improve data collection. Due to the way the Conventions are designed, the collection of useful data, beyond arrests and seizures, is greatly hindered.

Harm reduction is necessary and fundamental, but there’s also a need to address human security, human development and human rights. Housing, food, job opportunities.

Ultimately, we need contextual research to direct resources to particular needs and design appropriate policies.

Q & A |

Q: Reparations in the US for Black communities?
A: Hopefully, but the US is so far behind that we struggle to make public authorities reallocate resources from criminalisation and into providing health and social services.

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