The Beckley Foundation was one of the first NGOs to start examining issues related to drugs and drug policy in a scientifically evaluated way. At that time, the UN did not undertake this function itself. Now there are more NGOs, and indeed the UN itself, working in this field. Most of the research is of an excellent level and deserves widespread dissemination. Evidence is one of the most (if not the most) important factors when discussing drug laws and drug policy. Sadly, most often the recommendation for evidence-based policies comes only from reformists, specifying what drug policies should be based on, as opposed to what they currently have as their originating motivation. Drug control is largely driven by ideological and political factors.
A crucial question within the political sphere is often ‘what will be more/less popular with a voting public?’ The real truth about the harms of the Drug War/prohibitionist and criminalising approach is only frequently admitted by politicians in private or once they come out of office. For example, before he came into office UK Prime Minister David Cameron was member of a parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee that produced a major report on the UK’s approach to drugs, recommending that “the Government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways-including the possibility of legalisation and regulation-to tackle the global drugs dilemma”; however, since becoming resident in Number Ten, he has largely shied away from such important comments and kept drug reform a political taboo. Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are producing important work in order to break this taboo. An open reflection of the effectiveness and consequences of current drug policy regimes,
especially according to a scientifically-evaluated evidence base, is vital in order to promote informed and objective debate on the potential directions of future drug policy reforms.
The work of drug policy NGOs must enter the political sphere and inform debate. Development and Economic Issues Alternative Development has been a major policy in grower areas/countries. Often encouraged by international/governmental microfinance schemes, farmers are encouraged to stop growing illicit crops, such as the coca leaf or opium, and instead grow legal crops, such as bananas or wheat. The UNODC currently implements this policy in six countries (Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Laos). As a policy it has significant negative consequences, including just displacing production from one area to another, criminalising farmers, causing environmental degradation and negative effects on health and creating serious issues of violence and forced displacements.
ii) Susana Ojeda, ‘Alternative development from the perspective of Colombian farmers’, TNI Drug Policy Briefing No. 36, 2011
iii) Office of Inspector General, US Agency for International Development, ‘Audit of USAID/Colombia’s Alternative Development Program’, 2010
iv) ‘Alternative Development or Business as Usual? China’s Opium Substitution Policy in Burma and Laos’, TNI Drug Policy Briefing No. 33, 2010 v) David Mansfiled, ‘Assessing Supply-Side Policy and Practice: Eradication and Alternative Development’, Working Paper prepared for the First Meeting of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, 2011 http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Arquivos/Global_Com_David_Mansfield.pdf
vi) Nick Crofts, ‘Drugs and Development – Caught in a Vicious Cycle’, The Guardian, April 2011
vii) Philip Keefer, Norman Loayza, and Rodrigo R. Soares, ‘Drug Prohibition and Developing Countries: Uncertain Benefits, Certain Costs in Philip Keefer and Norman Loayza, Innocent Bystanders: Developing Countries and the War on Drugs’, World Bank, 2010