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



Imagine a world in which all people who have problems with substance abuse, especially women, will not suffer stigma but will be 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 generating 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 addressing its complexity and specificity in each political, legal, territorial, social and cultural context. It should also reflect a logical exercise 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 kick start the new Sustainable Development Goals – 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 an additional reflection on current social and economic development models, which have increased the vulnerability of certain territories, communities and individuals to participate in illicit economies or suffer from drug use related problems. In a crucial moment in which we converge the discussions on this new post-2015 agenda and the thematic discussion on drug policies at Special Session of the UN General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) in 2016, UNDP has put on the table a document for reflection, which was presented at the UN headquarters in New York this week. It 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 intersectoral responses adapted to each context in order to generate positive transformations for human development. In the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) we bring extensive experience in developing policies to reduce poverty, inequality and exclusion to help build more effective and comprehensive public policy solutions, as we have done in the field of citizen security and the 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. Our message is clear: drug policies can no longer be a factor that negatively affects communities’ development. They should have the opposite effect: they should facilitate sustainable and inclusive development for all, putting people first and leaving no one behind.

Javier Sagredo, Advisor, Democratic Governance & Citizen Security at UNDP

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