Home » Side event: Legal Regulation through a Development Lens

Side event: Legal Regulation through a Development Lens

Organized by Health Poverty Action with the support of the International Drug Policy Consortium and Instituto RIA.

Clemmie James, Health Poverty Action. ‘Prohibiton has failed in all aspects of its stated purposs. With only 9 years left to achieve the SDGs, there is much to win by advancing socially just models for legally regulating drugs. This is happening at many levels – we are seeing progressive reforms in the USA, in Mexico and New York. It’s less about when we will transition to legal regulation, but about how.

Legal regulation can strengthen sustainable development. The policy of prohibition is one of the key factors to drive poverty across the world, and it is a barrier to development. Many harms caused by prohibiton can be dealt with decriminalisation, but other aspects require the legal regulation of markets. To contribute towards achieving the SDGs, legally regulated frameworks must be regarded accross the whole supply chain, including growth and cultivation.

At HPA, we want to look at legal regulation through the framework of the SDGs, and we have used the SDGs to highlight the different aspects of legal regulation, through this diagram.

For each SDGs we have highlighted how it can be achieved through legal regulation. If this is not followed, it is likely that corporations – typically from the Global North – will monopolise the newly created drug markets. Existing extractive agricultural industries, such as cofee or tobacco, are not models to be replicated. If multinational corporations dominate, the same problematic issues that underpin the current globalisation model will dominate the regulated market.’

Zara Snapp, Instituto RIA: ‘Under prohibition we see how war, conflict, violence, and criminalisation become acceptable. Countries receive international aid to ‘fight drug trafficking’, which is then used to buy arms and law enforcement equipment. ‘Kingpin’ targeting strategies are ineffective at stopping illegal drugs trade, and create instability.

Cultivating communities are stuck between evils. One the one hand, they see their crops routinely eradicated by the military. On the other hand, they get paid very low prices by organised crime. Other options are not available.

As reform advocates, we believe that the actor we need to target is the State. It’s not up to us to change non-state actors. It’s up to us to change the state so that it creates frameworks, conditions and incentives that allow for illegal actors to transition into legality, and that allow for communities to advocate for their own rights and conditions.

Instituto RIA has developed a social justice framework under four principles:

  1. Actively confront the dynamics of privilege and oppression.
  2. Recognise the existence of groups that have been historically and currently marginalised.
  3. Generate affirmative and retributive actions to balance the level of justice of power.
  4. Designate resources towards reparations.

In Mexico, we have been in a very long process of more than 3 years on the legal regulation of cannabis. The Supreme court gave a time limit to the Mexico legislator to create a regulatory framework for cannabis – but it already has given 3 deadline extensions, and a fourth one is impending.

The current bill envisages the creation of a regulated market. In prior iterations of the bill, there were quotas of market licenses reserved for certain affected communities, but in the current wording this has been watered down to ‘preference’ and ‘prioritisation’ for affected communities. It is unclear how this will translate into action. The law also provides for accompaniement to communities and small businesses, so that the market is  not monopolised by a few big actors. We will not solve all of Mexico’s issues if we regulate cannabis, but this is one of the steps necessary to repair the harms of prohibiton’.

Philasande Mahlakata, Umzimvubu Farmers Network:  ‘Umzimvubu is a small organisation that started out as an effort to advocate against aerial spraying of cannabis crops in areas that where also used for grazing by animals, or to grow crops for food.

In South Africa, cannabis policies are elaborated by the criminal justice department, not by the agriculture department, which is very questionable. While marihuana remains subject to prohibition , hemp has now moved to agriculture, which also raises lots of questions on how cannabis and hemp can be viably distinguished in a way that is fair.

We feel that we need to educate people about the cannabis industry, beyond recreational use. There have been 100 years of stigmatisation of cannabis, and we believe that the department of education has a great role in educating people.

Marihuana has hundreds of years of medicinal use, together with other plants that have psychodelic effects, which have been developed by traditional users in spaces not controlled by Western medicine. People have acquired incredible knowledge on how to use the plant. We have diverse means on how to heal people, also on a spiritual level. When legal regulations are put in place, these communities need to be consulted. The indigenous knowledge systems are the backbone of any medicine around the world. We need to trust them.

Legal regulation in South Africa allows us to cultivate for our own use privately. The question is – if marihuana is good enough for me to use privately, why are communities not allowed to grow and commercialise it? Furthermore, the contents of the bill that establish great limitations on the number of plants that can be grown are largely unknown by traditional communities, so the arrangement is unfair’.

Lorenzo Uribe, lead drafter of the Cocaine Regulation Bill, Colombia. ‘In Colombia, coca prohibition has hindered human rights and development. It has not only failed at stopping the development of illegal markets, but has brought untold harm. The livelihood of 200,000 families that rely on coca growth is under threat. Harms to the environment, growing commuities, and users are very signifcant.  It is time to explore a different approach.

The bill (see link here) we proposed had the following features.

1/ Coca cultivation. Coca cultivation was going to be allowed, but only in areas where it is already been grown. We want to make sure that local cultivators actually benefit from the legal market. We also want to encourage the creating of local cooperatives.

2/ Cocaine production. When it comes to producing, the state would buy the quantity of coca to supply the legal cocaine market, and then the state would outsource the production of cocaine to authorised labs.

3/ Consumption. When it comes to retail and consumption, the regulatory framework would depend on the health harms of the product: light regulation for coca leafs, strict regulation for cocaine, and prohibition for crack cocaine (but not criminalisation). Investment in harm reduction would be promoted

Through this regulation we would contribute to four SDGs: SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 3 (health and well-being), SDG 15 (life in land), and SDG 16 (peace and justice).

Juan Fernandez Ochoa, International Drug Policy Consortium. ‘There’s now some 50 countries that have adopted legal regulatory frameworks for medical cannabis, and a good number of jurisdictions have created markets for adult non-medical use. In September 2020, IDPC published a set of Principles for the Responsible Legal Regulation of Cannabis. It was an overdue publication, as the network had been for years concerned with taking that step. But thanks to many national-level members that have been leading on these discussions, after a 2-year-long process we were able to produce this vision for legal regulation based on health, human rights, and social justice.

The current momentum for the legal regulation of cannabis creates a space for moving drug policies towards social justice, and the affirmation of rights. The IDPC principles for the responsible legal regulation of cannabis were based on five pillars:

  • Placing the health and human rights of people who use drugs at the centre of legal frameworks. This should include ensuring that the personal autonomy and privacy of people who use drugs are preserved (i.e. no registry of users should be established), and promoting investment in harm reduction and other evidence-based interventions.
  • Legally regulated markets need to be based on inclusive and equitable markets, so that communities involved in the illegal markets can transition effectively into the new formal economy.
  • Legal regulation needs to be accompanied by criminal justice reform for activities that fall outside of the regulated markets. Reforms need to remove punishments for all forms of drug use, and where there are sanctions for other supply-related activities, to ensure that they are proportionate, and that they prioritise non-custodial approaches.
  • Legal regulation must adopt a gender-sensitive approach.
  • Legal regulation must be regularly updated through the gathering of data and  knowledge from past experiences. Regulation is an iterative process.

While these principles in this publications where thought around cannabis, that does not mean that cannabis must be treated exceptionally. The principles, and the underlying values of health, human rights, and social justice, should be extended to the regulation of all drugs. In the coming years our network will continue to gather knowledge and lessons learnt to extend them to other substances and environments.

Clemmie James, Health Poverty Action. ‘A few years ago there was no event on legal regulation at CND. But now we already see several side events. So I hope that in the future legal regulation has a growing space in this environment, and that affected communities have a larger role in shaping them’.

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