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Drugs, Poverty & Development – Policy Solutions?

On 26 February 2015, BGIPU and Health Poverty Action (HPA) brought a panel together to discuss drug policy as a driver of poverty and its impact on human rights and international development. The occasion was in honour of the launch of the HPA report “Casualties of War” which highlights how the war on drugs is harming the world’s poorest.

The panel was chaired by former deputy opposition spokesperson for Health and International Development, Lord Rea. Catherine Martin, Policy Advisor for HPA and author of the new report, spoke about the disproportionate impact the enforcement of drug prohibition is having in terms of resources, governance, security, health, livelihoods and environmental justice. The amount of money estimated as required to achieve universal healthcare costs 37% of the current cost of the war on drugs. As state services are weakened by corruption and misplaced resources, the results are a surge in violent crime and weakened health systems.

Sir Keith Morris, former Ambassador to Colombia in the 1990s and one of the first drug policy reform campaigners, highlighted that what can be realistically hoped for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS 2016) is for amendments to allow experiments in regulation and trade between consenting countries for greater NGO support on this.

Dr Julia Buxton, Professor of Comparative Politics and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Programs at the School of Public Policy at Central European University in Budapest, expanded on how drug production can be an answer to poverty for farmers in producing countries and how poorly-designed alternative development programmes have resulted in a deepened cycle of rural poverty and a spread of drug production in vulnerable countries such as Afghanistan.

Jeremy Corbyn MP, chair of the Mexico All Party Parliamentary group and vice-chair of the Human Rights All Party Parliamentary group, focused on specific examples of how drug prohibition enforcement has strangulated the human rights of countless citizens in Central America, fuelling issues of gang crime, human trafficking and illegal migration.

Baroness Meacher, Chair of the Drug Policy Reform All-Party Parliamentary Group, ended by giving an overview of the role of the UN Conventions on these issues stressing that they do not in themselves oblige states to take the drug prohibition enforcement approach. Instead she shared the work of her Consortium of Member States who have created guidelines ahead of UNGASS 2016 for states to interpret the Conventions in a new human rights and health oriented way.