Improving global drug policy: Comparative perspectives and UNGASS 2016

As the world prepares for the 2016 Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS 2016), an increasing number of countries around the world now find the regime’s emphasis on punitive approaches to illicit drugs to be problematic and are asking for reform. In this moment of global disagreement, the Brookings project on Improving Global Drug Policy provides a unique comparative evaluation of the effectiveness and costs of international counternarcotics policies and best approaches to reform.

The emerging global “dissensus” in drug policy: Geopolitics and UNGASS 2016


UNGASS 2016 in Comparative Perspective: Improving the Prospects for Success

Vanda Felbab-Brown and Harold Trinkunas show that UNGASS 2016 is likely to be contentious due to disagreements between liberalizers in Europe and Latin America and hardliners in Russia and Asia. They argue that instead of treaty revision, this global meeting should aim to open space for policy experimentation. View in: ESPAÑOL

Pushing for reform

A soldier from the Seventh Division of the Colombian National Army walks out from a shack, which served as a make-shift cocaine laboratory, after burning it down during an operation to eradicate coca plants at a plantation in Yali, northeastern Antioquia, September 3, 2014. REUTERS/Fredy Builes (COLOMBIA - Tags: CRIME LAW MILITARY DRUGS SOCIETY) - RTR44VBC

Plan Colombia: An Analysis of Effectiveness and Costs

Daniel Mejía finds that Colombia has succeeded, at tremendous costs in blood and treasure, in significantly reducing domestic coca production and the size of the illicit economy, but he recommends alternative policies to achieve better results at lower costs.

A military convoy drives through downtown Morelia, Michoacan July 31, 2013. President Enrique Pena Nieto admitted last week that organized crime controlled areas of Michoacan, but he pledged to restore order in the same state were his predecessor Felipe Calderon launched his military campaign against drug gangs. Hundreds of federal troops have poured into Michoacan since last week, joining forces that Pena Nieto has deployed there REUTERS/Alan Ortega (MEXICO - Tags: MILITARY CIVIL UNREST POLITICS) - RTX126GF

Plus Ça Change: Structural Continuities in Mexican Counternarcotics Policy

Alejandro Hope finds that Mexico’s drug policies remain heavily militarized, and that the result has been the fragmentation of drug trafficking cartels into smaller operations that violently contest markets and extract rents from local populations.

An activist for the legalization of marijuana, who declined to be identified, checks the plants of his illegal plantation in a neighbourhood of Montevideo March 15, 2011. Congressmen Sebastian Sabini and Nicolas Nunez of the ruling Frente Amplio party have finished writing up a bill to be debated by the legislature to allow private individuals to cultivate as many as eight female marijuana plants per person for their own consumption. The bill has the support of many of the majority ruling party, and if passed into law would be the first of its type in South America. REUTERS/Andres Stapff (URUGUAY - Tags: SOCIETY CRIME LAW) - RTR2JXU4

Uruguay’s Drug Policy: Major Innovations, Major Challenges

John Walsh and Geoff Ramsey review Uruguay’s pioneering policies that legalize and regulate every level of the market for cannabis.

Marijuana-based products are displayed at the "Oregon's Finest" medical marijuana dispensary in Portland, Oregon April 8, 2014. Over 20 Oregon cities and counties are moving to temporarily ban medical marijuana dispensaries ahead of a May deadline, reflecting a divide between liberal Portland and more conservative rural areas wary about allowing medical weed. Portland, Oregon's largest city, already has a number of medical marijuana clinics and has not moved to ban them. Picture taken April 8, 2014. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola (UNITED STATES - Tags: DRUGS SOCIETY POLITICS HEALTH) - RTR3KMHM

Legal Commercial Cannabis Sales in Colorado and Washington: What Can We Learn?

Mark Kleiman compares the results of cannabis legalization in U.S. states Colorado and Washington, and argues that problematic side effects of commercialization can be mitigated through smart state regulation of cannabis markets.

An unidentified man smokes a marijuana joint in a coffeeshop in Rotterdam in this June 14, 2005 file picture. The Dutch may well follow other European countries in banning tobacco smoking in restaurants, cafes and bars but it should still be possible to inhale cannabis pure by using a 'volcano'. Picture taken June 14, 2005. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen (NETHERLANDS) - RTR1OUJ2

Mixed Messages from Europe on Drug Policy Reform: The Cases of Sweden and the Netherlands

Caroline Chatwin compares drug policies in Sweden and the Netherlands, which represent two extremes in the European Union between abstinence-based policies and harm-reduction approaches.


An Afghan policeman destroys poppies during a campaign against narcotics in Kunar province, April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Parwiz (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CRIME LAW DRUGS SOCIETY) - RTR3N2WF

No Easy Exit: Drugs and Counternarcotics Policies in Afghanistan

Vanda Felbab-Brown examines the drivers of Afghanistan’s deeply-entrenched illicit economy and evaluates policy options for mitigating the threats it poses in a context of persisting instability.
A policeman stands guard near bags of methamphetamine pills during the 39th Destruction of Confiscated Narcotics in Ayutthaya province, nearly 80 km (50 miles) north of Bangkok, June 24, 2011. AAbout 5,844 kg (12,884 lbs) of drugs, among them methamphetamines, marijuana, heroin and opium worth more than 7,400 million baht ($242 million) were destroyed to commemorate Drugs Free Day on June 26, according to the Thai Public Health Ministry. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND - Tags: CRIME LAW SOCIETY) - RTR2O11F

Drugs and Drug Policy in Thailand

James Windle contrasts Thailand’s hardline approach toward drug trafficking and use with its successful use of alternative development efforts to curtail the cultivation of poppy.
Tuan Anh Nguyen, 45, holds a syringe filled with heroin in his rented room in Hanoi November 23, 2011. Tuan Anh began abusing drugs 23 years ago after being released from prison. He has since spent most of his life in prisons and rehabilitation centres. Tuan Anh earns a living by running an illegal tea stall that generates $3 to $5 of income daily. REUTERS/Kham (VIETNAM - Tags: HEALTH SOCIETY DRUGS) - RTR2UDNN

A Slow March from Social Evil to Harm Reduction: Drugs and Drug Policy in Vietnam

James Windle reviews Vietnam’s slow shift from a repressive measures for drug trafficking and use toward greater incorporation of a public health approach to address one of Asia’s worst HIV/AIDS epidemics.

ATTENTION EDITORS THIS IS 7 OF 35 PICTURES FROM MYANMAR'S OPIUM WAR BY REUTERS PHOTOGRAPHER DAMIR SAGOLJ A policeman holds poppy plants after a field was destroyed above the village of Tar-Pu, in the mountains of Shan State January 27, 2012. Myanmar has dramatically escalated its poppy eradication efforts since September 2011, threatening the livelihoods of impoverished farmers who depend upon opium as a cash crop to buy food. With new ceasefires ending years of conflict between the government and ethnic insurgents, Myanmar police and United Nations officials are travelling through opium-rich Shan State to ask farmers what assistance they need. Picture taken January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj (MYANMAR - Tags: DRUGS SOCIETY) - RTR2Y5ID

Current State of Counternarcotics Policy and Policy Reform Debates in Myanmar

Tom Kramer reviews the consequences of Myanmar’s decades of internal violence on the drug trade and the problematic consequences of drug suppression without securing alternative livelihoods.

A sniper holds his gun in front of Rocinha slum during the inauguration of its Peacekeeping Unit Program (UPP) in Rio de Janeiro September 20, 2012. The occupation of Rocinha, a notorious hillside "favela" that overlooks some of Rio's swankiest areas, is a crucial part of the city's preparations to host soccer's World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics two years later. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes (BRAZIL - Tags: CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW) - RTR38739

Drugs and Drug Trafficking in Brazil: Trends and Policies

Paula Miraglia examines the relationship between drugs, illegal arms, and Brazil’s high rates of criminal violence, and highlights innovative programs such as São Paulo de Braços Abertos as positive alternatives to existing punitive drug policies.

A policeman patrols a market in central Timbuktu December 28, 2009. The fabled city is in the Sahel region of northern Mali. The area has become a stronghold for a franchise of Al Qaeda, and a hub for trafficking cocaine from South America by air, which is then smuggled onto Europe. ln 2008, an official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent a report to his superiors detailing what he called "the most significant development in the criminal exploitation of aircraft since 9/11." Picture taken December 28, 2009. To match feature DRUGS/SECURITY-AVIATION REUTERS/Tim Gaynor (MALI - Tags: TRANSPORT CRIME LAW SOCIETY) - RTR28TRW

Crime, Violence, and Politics: Drug Trafficking and Counternarcotics Policies in Mali and Guinea

Lansana Gberie examines the impacts of increased drug trafficking through Mali and Guinea on the countries’ political development and stability and considers the limitations of their weak institutions for developing effective responses.

Vicky, a 40-year-old, Canadian-born, Greek drug addict, takes a drop of her own blood from a syringe as she prepares to inject herself with a narcotics cocktail known as speedball, a cocaine and heroin mix, on a central Athens side street April 30, 2012. The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends that 200 clean syringes are provided per drug user per year to limit HIV infection. Greece has been providing three, the Hellenic Centre for Infectious Diseases Control says. Greece's financial crisis has resulted in a drop in its health spending by 36 percent last year, according to the National School of Public Health. The latest available United Nations figures, from 2009, show that 11,000 people, or 0.1 percent of the Greek population, had HIV/AIDS, a third the rate in the United States. But that may be changing. In the first five months of 2010, Greece had 255 new HIV cases. Over the same period in 2011, there were 384 new cases -- an increase of more than 50 percent. The Hellenic Center predicts the rate of increase will rise to 60 percent by the end of 2011. By comparison in the United States, cases are increasing by around 7 percent annually. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis (GREECE - Tags: BUSINESS DRUGS SOCIETY) - RTR31F2K

Mixed Messages from Europe on Drug Policy Reform: The Cases of Sweden and the Netherlands

Caroline Chatwin compares drug policies in Sweden and the Netherlands, which represent two extremes in the European Union between abstinence-based policies and harm-reduction approaches.


U.S. Secretary of State for the fight against drug trafficking William Brownfield speaks during an official visit to Bogota February 11, 2011. Brownfield is in Colombia as part of a tour that includes Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, to reaffirm Washington's commitment to combat drug trafficking in the region. REUTERS/Fredy Builes (COLOMBIA - Tags: POLITICS) - RTXXR7W

Back in the National Spotlight: An Assessment of Recent Changes in Drug Use and Drug Policies in the United States

Beau Kilmer, Greg Midgette, and Clinton Saloga examine recent trends in U.S. drug use and analyze the federal government’s increased emphasis on treatment and flexibility toward harm reduction methods.

Interior Ministry officers detain an activist of "The Other Russia" political movement for taking part in a sit-in protest near the Solovetsky Stone, a monument dedicated to victims of political repressions, in Moscow July 20, 2011. Activists gathered in central Moscow to show their support for Taisia Osipova, a member of the movement who is on trial for charges of drug dealing in Smolensk. Supporters, however, felt that the accusation was politically motivated. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR2P2NO

Narcotics and Nationalism: Russian Drug Policies and Futures

Mark Galeotti analyzes the intersection of Russia’s growing public health crisis, nationalist politics, and securitized and punitive counternarcotics policies.
A drug dealer is sentenced to death by a judge during a public trial at a university gymnasium, three days before June 26, the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking in Shanghai June 23, 2006. REUTERS/Aly Song (CHINA) - RTR1ERZU

A People’s War: China’s Struggle to Contain its Illicit Drug Problem

Sheldon Zhang and Ko-Lin Chin examine the roots of China’s growing drug use, the country’s strong embrace of highly punitive approaches, and the limited appetite and constituency for reform.


United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Yuri Fedotov addresses a news conference presenting the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2010 in Vienna September 30, 2010. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader (AUSTRIA - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW HEALTH) - RTXSUI0

UNGASS 2016: Prospects for Treaty Reform and UN System-Wide Coherence on Drug Policy

Martin Jelsma reviews the history of past Special Sessions of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS) on drugs and argues that UNGASS 2016 is unlikely to reach a consensus declaration due to global disagreements over drug policy. View in: ESPAÑOL

Packages of seized cocaine are seen during a presentation to the media at Corosal Base in Panama City March 9, 2015. The Panamanian border police seized more than 1.9 ton of cocaine during an operation in the area of Guna Yala. Two persons were arrested - one from Panama, the other from Colombia - acccording to Panama Border Police Commissioner Frank Abrego. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso (PANAMA - Tags: DRUGS SOCIETY CRIME LAW) - RTR4SNLQ

After the Grand Fracture: Scenarios for the Collapse of the International Drug Control Regime

Using game theory analysis, Jonathan Caulkins examines the international consequences of the decision by a single cocaine-producing or transit country to legalize drugs.