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New LSE report recommends 'War on Drugs' is replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals

after the drug wars

Five Nobel Prize recipients and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos today endorsed a new London School of Economics (LSE) report recommending a radical overhaul of international policies that would move countries beyond the existing singular ‘war on drugs’ focus on eradication and repression towards policies grounded in political and socioeconomic integration.  

The report calls for ‘war on drugs’ policies to be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs were adopted by the United Nations (UN) in late 2015, representing a universally agreed upon set of 17 goals and targets that commits the international community to implement as part of a comprehensive global approach to development.

The LSE IDEAS report, After the Drug Wars, takes as its starting point that the ‘war on drugs’ has been a costly failure, destroying countless lives, fuelling HIV and Hepatitis C epidemics, incarcerating millions of people, keeping countless other millions from accessing essential pain relieving medicines such as morphine and creating unfathomable levels of violence and destabilisation around the world.

“The question now is not, whether to end the ‘war on drugs’, but what to replace its failed policies with,” said Dr John Collins, coordinator of LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project and editor of the report.

“The path to drug peace becomes clearer if we look to the SDGs as the way to address the root causes of many socioeconomic problems, one of which is problematic drug use. It is also the way to tackle the systemic causes of illicit market violence, which is often a product of and worsened by hard-line prohibitionist policies.

"The global priorities should be –develop first, manage drug issues second. If states pursue prohibitionist policies in the absence of development and political integration, the result is usually instability, violence and failures on drug control goals. To be successful states must recognise that policies need to be properly sequenced. Focusing on the SDGs over counterproductive drug control goals is the way to do this.”

In late April of this year, UN member states will meet at for the first UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) since 1998. There is an increasing recognition by the international community of the the flexibilities within the UN drug control treaties to implement new policies which are grounded in science, evidence and the highest standards of health, welfare, sustainable development and human rights.

After the Drug Wars highlights that the UN Charter is supreme over the drug control treaties and prevents practices which breach human rights standards. The report argues that states must conduct rigorous social scientific experimentation with policies to determine which are best suited to their local and national needs. This can and should extend to regulating legal access to certain substances where the harm of the illicit market undermines basic human security, welfare and dignity.

“When Member states come together at the UNGASS they won´t have to look further than the Colombia experience to see that the current strategy is well and truly broke,” said Michael Cox, Director of LSE IDEAS. “The country has fought a long and desperate war, at a dreadful cost to their political structures, security services and population. Now that Colombia has the opportunity to put to rest its decades long internal conflict with its historic peace agreement, it also has the opportunity to move beyond the failed ‘war on drugs’ strategies of the past and move towards a sustainable development model.

“A Drug Peace can arrive if the country reduces through economic and political integration, the reliance of, for example, over 300, 000 Colombian people (65,000 households) on the illicit trade. Forcibly eradicating crops and sending in the military has never worked - is not only premature when there is no economic infrastructure or central government control of these areas, it is actively damaging.”


For more on the report please contact LSE IDEAS Communication Officer: Joseph Barnsley: j.barnsley@lse.ac.uk, 020 7955 6101 or John Collins (report editor) j.collins@lse.ac.uk.

or Peter Carrol (LSE Press Office) P.Carrol@lse.ac.uk.

The full After the Drug Wars report is available here: http://www.lse.ac.uk/IDEAS/publications/reports/pdf/LSE-IDEAS-After-the-Drug-Wars.pdf

The report is the third part of a wider LSE IDEAS project that over the past four years has examined the global drugs trade and the factors behind policy failure. The first report, Governing The Global Drug Wars, was published in 2012, and the second report, Ending the Drug Wars, was published in 2014.

After the Drug Wars was launched on Monday 15 February at a public event at LSE. To register interest in attending, please contact lse.press.events@lse.ac.uk

LSE International Drug Policy Project (IDPP)

The LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project is a large scale multidisciplinary and cross-regional research undertaking. It has been created to produce a deep strategic re-evaluation of the international drug control system through rigorous academic research and policy analysis.www.lse.ac.uk/drugpolicy

Image:  Policía Nacional de los colombianos Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 

15 February 2016