Drugs & Democracy
Critical thinking, Real solutions
TNI’s Drugs & Democracy programme analyses policies and trends in the illicit drugs market, examining the underlying causes of drug production and consumption, and the impacts of current drug policies on conflict, development and democracy. The programme facilitates policy dialogue and advocates evidence-based policies, guided by principles of harm reduction and human rights.
TNI works to give voice to those who have suffered disproportionately the consequences of the war on drugs – beginning with farmers of coca, opium poppy and cannabis, to imprisoned drug users – and has emerged as a leading global advisor to both governments and civil society organizations looking for more effective human rights-based drug policies.
In 2017, the main focus was on advising the Canadian government on its path towards legalization, as well as ongoing work with partners in South America and South-East Asia.
GOAL: To reassess the conventional repressive drug policy approaches in favour of pragmatic policies based on harm reduction, human rights, and development principles.
|Goals||Results to which TNI contributed in 2017|
|Ensure 2017 UNGASS recognizes the reality of a broken consensus and accepts the possibility of future changes in the UN treaty system and its institutional architecture.||Important steps taken:
|Ensure active engagement of other UN agencies and meaningful participation of civil society in UNGASS.||
|Organize forums with opium, coca and cannabis farmers in order to facilitate participation in policy debates and UNGASS.||
|Continue the cross-fertilization of experiences and best practices in drug law reform and cannabis regulation.||
|Explore different options for revision of the UN drug control treaty system.||
|Continue informal dialogues to facilitate strategic policy debates and creation of like-minded groups and consolidation of coordinated positions.||
|Move international debate about Alternative Development towards concept of harm reduction, applied to the drug supply-side.||
- TNI presented the Canadian government with a mechanism to modify the UN conventions on drugs whereby legal regulation of cannabis markets could be facilitated.
- TNI facilitated dialogues between the government, CSOs, and former guerilla leaders about the implementation of the drugs part of the Colombian peace accords.
- TNI strengthened skills and knowledge on drug policy advocacy amongst a group of professionals and scholars from Southeast Asia through the Advocacy Fellowship Program on Drug Policy Reform.
- TNI contributed to the drafting of the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy for use by national governments, especially in the context of illicit cultivation and supply side policies
“It was a priceless experience for me to join TNI's Advocacy Fellowship Program on Drug Policy Reform in Amsterdam. It gave us an opportunity to discuss and learn about the development of Drug Policy around the world, and particularly in Netherlands. I realized that there is still so much work to be done in my home country, Indonesia. Having learned so many things from the fellowship, I hope that I will be able to contribute in making a better drug policy in Indonesia.”
– Viona Wijaya, South East Asian fellowship alumnus
Project in numbers
5029 followers for TNI’s @DrugLawReform on twitter
12894 people participated in TNI organized or co-organized events.
6486 subscribers to TNI South East Asia Mailing list
8678 total subscribers to TNI’s mailing list.
Articles citing or mentioning our work and perspectives appeared in Al Jazeera, The Jakarta Post, Asia Times, El Espectador, The Irrawaddy, The Economist, Nikkei Asian Review, The Daily Star, Myanmar Times, Shan Herald, The Diplomat, New York Times (ES), Foreign Policy, South China Morning Post
A pathway to drug policy reform
TNI believes that current prohibitionist drug policies are ineffective and counter-productive. The programme helps governments to devise and execute policy alternatives that do not infringe on human rights.
Countries that have decided to implement liberal domestic policies on drugs still need to be in harmony with their international treaty obligations. Uruguay and Canada, for instance, have been engaged in efforts to legalize and regulate the recreational use of cannabis within their borders, creating tensions with the UN conventions. The second expert meeting on Cannabis Regulation and International Law, hosted in October by TNI in Amsterdam, discussed a pathway to domestic drug policy reform: the inter se modification mechanism.
The mechanism is useful for countries that want to explore different regulatory approaches towards drugs / psychoactive substances, and yet find a peaceful coexistence with the UN drug control treaty system. The process lays the ground for countries that are considering liberalizing their domestic drug policy, while simultaneously taking international law seriously and thereby contributing to the process of modernizing the UN drug control system.
Plugging small scale farmers into the emergent economy
TNI has gained respect and credit for pioneering proposals related to farmer participation, harm reduction on the supply side, and regulation of markets for cannabis and mild stimulants like the coca leaf. In 2017, TNI published a policy briefing discussing whether or not the stated aim of reducing cannabis cultivation is realistic or beneficial for Morocco, and what it would mean for the Rif, the major production area in the country.
TNI was intricately involved in preparations by Moroccan and Colombian farmers to claim a significant stake in a legalized medical cannabis market. As legal cannabis markets open up globally, many small-holder growers that have supplied the illicit market for decades face the distinct possibility of being pushed out by bigger corporate players, and thus losing their livelihoods. This issue is most pressing in countries like Morocco, which stand to gain the most from crops that have historically been prohibited. This briefing has been widely used to buttress advocacy and to make the case for Moroccan farmers.
Building Core alliances
TNI has always positioned itself within networks where its rigorous research and analysis can have the strongest impact. In 2017, TNI co-organized the Brandenburg forum, a convening of like-minded governments exploring alternative drug policy and continued its collaboration with the Global Partnership on Drug Policies and Development (GPDPD).
Under the auspices of the GPDPD, convened by the German GiZ, the University of Essex, and the UNDP, TNI gave insights into policies on the traditional use of crop control policies in the process of drafting proposed Human Rights guidelines in respect to international drug policy. Through decades of building trust and capacity TNI has gained deep insights into the needs and desires, and human rights concerns of those involved in the supply side of the drugs industry. These insights continue to guide TNI’s interventions.
TNI took part in the facilitation of the South East Asian Advocacy fellowship, which is hosted by long-standing TNI partner, the Open Society Foundation. The fellowship brought together young people from the Phillipines, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, and Cambodia, and immersed them in two weeks of intensive advocacy training, particularly on drug policy. Alumni of the fellowship leave with a deeper understanding of advocacy work, and they leave to strengthen their own organizations, as well as forging interpersonal and inter-organizational ties that build solidarity in the region.
TNI also prepared and facilitated the ninth informal drug policy dialogue in South East Asia, co-hosted with the Cambodian government, and involving mainly Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos and the Cambodian hosts. As an informal event, the dialogue gave policymakers an opportunity to speak freely and compare notes with peers from across the region without being limited by existing policy positions.
Drawing parallels and learning transnationally
Growers of illicit crops in Colombia and in Myanmar may operate in vastly different cultural settings, but they have faced very similar challenges. Both countries are undergoing difficult peace processes within a former conflict situation, both face challenges in rural development, and both engage in criminalization of traditional crop production. TNI, which has garnered experience working in both countries for decades, sent missions supporting grower communities in the peace processes. TNI also facilitated engagement between the two national governments to exchange experiences in the peace processes in both countries.
Finally, TNI continued to contribute to the shifting to a Human Rights and harm reduction approach in drug regulation through the publication of the Burmese version of “Found in the Dark”, TNI's seminal 2016 report on human rights violations resulting from limitations in Myanmar's drug policy.
- Morocco and cannabis https://www.tni.org/en/publication/morocco-and-cannabis
- Edging Forward https://www.tni.org/en/publication/edging-forward
- Coca and the Colombian Peace Accords https://www.tni.org/en/article/coca-and-the-colombian-peace-accords
- Human rights and drug policy primer (updated March 2017) https://www.tni.org/en/briefing/human-rights-and-drug-policy
Senior Project Officer
Senior Project Officer
Senior Research Associate, Myanmar
Martin de Simona
Partners and networks
- Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP)
- International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)
- Open Society Foundations (OSF)
- Global Partnership on Drug Policies and Development (GPDPD)
Global Forum of Producers of Prohibited Plants (GFPPP)
- Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law (Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derecho, CEDD) Latin America
- Intercambios Asociación Civil, Argentina
- DeJusticia, Colombia
- Observatorio de Cultivos Declarados Ilicitos (OCDI), INDEPAZ, Colombia
- Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica (CIDE) Mexico
- Colectivo por una política integral hacia las drogas (CUPIDH), Mexico
- México Unido Contra la Delincuencia (MUCD), Mexico
- Centre for Research on Drugs and Human Rights (CIDDH), Peru
- Asociación Costarricense para el Estudio e Intervención en Drogas (ACEID), Costa Rica
- Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), US
- National Drug Users Network Myanmar (NDNM)
- Myanmar Opium Farmers Forum (MOFF)
- Drug Policy Advocacy Group (DPAG)
- Lawyers Collective, India
- Paung Ku, Myanmar
- Metta Development Foundation, Myanmar
- iDefend, Philippines
- Forum Droghe – Fuoriluogo, Italy
- University of Utrecht (Criminology), Netherlands
- Transform Drug Policy Foundation, UK
- Release, UK
- Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO), Swansea University, UK
- International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy, UK
- Diogenis Association, Greece
- Energy Control, Spain
- International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research & Services (ICEERS), Spain
- Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Germany
- Grupo de estudio de políticas sobre el cannabis (GEPCA) (Task Force on Cannabis Policies), Spain
- Confédération des Associations de Sanhaja du Rif pour le développement, Morocco