Our Perspectives

Why are drug policies relevant to the new global development agenda?


Photo: UNDP/Brian Sokol

Imagine a world in which all people who have problems with substance abuse do not suffer stigma but are guided to find appropriate health, social, and job-related support. Imagine a world in which justice systems and prison systems effectively fulfill their objectives to provide justice and social rehabilitation. This also entails finding alternative solutions that prevent keeping thousands of people imprisoned while awaiting trial, or experiencing grave human rights violations. Imagine a world in which public institutions and political parties firmly resist corruption attempts by criminal groups and their financial apparatus.

This is not a utopian and unrealizable imagination exercise or a dream sparked by overflowing optimism. Our societies must face the drug phenomenon by addressing its complexity and specificity in each political, legal, territorial, social and cultural context. We also need to imagine comprehensive public policies as vehicles for sustainable and inclusive human development.

Alternative responses that reduce the negative impacts of current drug policies will be essential for several countries—in Latin America, the Caribbean and beyond— in order to kickstart the new global development agenda. Traditional drug policies can generate a heavy toll in many of our societies, our political and institutional systems, our economies, our environment, and, ultimately, on our most vulnerable populations: women, youth and those of indigenous and African descent.

On the other hand, rethinking drug policies from a human development perspective requires additional reflection on current social and economic development models, which have increased the vulnerability of certain regions, communities, and individuals to participate in illicit economies or suffer from drug-use related problems.

In preparation for the thematic discussion on drug policies at the Special Session of the UN General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) in 2016, UNDP presented a document at the UN headquarters in New York that aims to put the Sustainable Development Goals as central elements in the construction of drug policy responses. With this in mind, it is essential to coordinate comprehensive and inter-sectoral responses adapted to each context in order to generate positive transformations for human development.

At UNDP, we bring extensive experience in developing policies to reduce poverty, inequality and exclusion to help build more effective and comprehensive public policy solutions, including in the fields of citizen security and prevention of violence and crime. For example, UNDP in Brazil is currently facilitating the debate on the penal response to drug trafficking and its effect on the exponential growth of the country’s prison population.

Sustainable development HIV and health Health Latin America & the Caribbean Governance and peacebuilding Brazil Javier Sagredo

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