Over the past twenty years, TNI has earned a reputation for developing innovative drug policy proposals and promoting these through effective advocacy. We consider issues of conflict, development and democracy and are guided by principles of harm reduction and human rights for producers, as well as users. TNI is regarded as one of the most knowledgeable watchdogs of the UN drug control system and our advice is often sought by government officials, UN agencies, and NGOs. TNI’s Informal Drug Policy Dialogues have brought government officials from more than 30 countries together with representatives of international agencies and civil society for open-minded and confidential strategy debates about drug policy changes. TNI has cultivated a strong network of legal experts to develop concrete proposals for national drug law reforms and for the modernization of the UN treaty system. At the same time, TNI also has its feet firmly on the ground. We work closely with rural communities involved in illicit cultivation of coca, opium poppy and cannabis, including in complicated conflict situations like in Colombia and Myanmar, where TNI has been involved in peace building efforts for many years. TNI helps small-scale producers across the world to find a voice in national and international policy spaces.
The emerging global cannabis market has been a key focus for TNI in 2019. This includes the historical moment to win global recognition for the medical usefulness of cannabis based on a World Health Organisation (WHO) cannabis review process, which tabled a number of recommendations to reclassify the plant and its components and which will be put to a UN vote. TNI actively engaged in the debates and published an in-depth briefing about the implications of these changes while pushing for a more critical review, since the proposed changes do not properly reflect the opportunities at stake. This includes the opportunity for the emerging medical cannabis market to include and benefit small-scale traditional farmers. TNI has taken the initiative to support and defend their right to access and participate in the debates. With partners organizing among small-scale farmers, TNI has developed a proposal for a UN drugs treaty modification which could provide a basis for setting the terms required to reach fair(er) and more inclusive trade for those impoverished communities which have depended on the illegal market for so long. TNI also supported the establishment of a regional Caribbean group of local cannabis growers who could give voice to concerns and proposals in engagements with their governments and at regional level. Together with the government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, TNI organised a workshop to discuss a strategy for fair(er) trade in cannabis. This saw the establishment of a new group of activists, academics and policy makers from the region that will work together to draft a position paper on cannabis policies in the Caribbean. Similar efforts in Morocco continued throughout the year.
In Europe, several city and regional authorities are developing initiatives to regulate their local cannabis market. TNI brought together several of these in producing a study comparing progress in 6 countries, and uncovering the policy dilemmas faced by local authorities and civil society groups alike. The outputs were shared with policy makers, local authorities, civil society, media and academics to provide input for local as well as national and EU level policy discussions.
TNI also launched a report on the smokable cocaine market in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is the result of a longstanding collaboration with harm reduction groups in the region advocating that governments take effective action. Policies for users of this substance tend to be merely repressive and only exacerbate related problems, while access to health services is extremely limited, leading to extreme human suffering in many urban centres.
Organised farmers from both Colombia and Myanmar were able to make inputs to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2019 describing the conditions of their communities and making a plea for a peace-building and development-oriented approach to the drugs question. TNI helped partners in Colombia in several ways to defend and deepen the peace process, which is threatened following political changes, widespread assassinations of local social leaders, and government intentions to resume chemical spraying of coca fields. TNI also helped build the Myanmar Opium Farmers’ Forum (MOFF), including linking opium farmers’ families and a drugs users’ network. The MOFF was able to build relations with the Office of the Narcotics Control Board, has attained some legitimacy in engaging with Myanmar government officials, and its annual statement articulating the conditions and needs of the communities it represents provided a basis for parliamentary questions. A MOFF/TNI film documenting the lives of opium farmers in Myanmar won the best documentary award at the only national film festival in Myanmar (See also under Results for our Myanmar programme). Based on the grounded knowledge of its team in the country, TNI challenged a dangerously misleading UN Office for Drug Control (UNODC) report which blamed increased opium production on local ethnic armed organisations in territories, in fact, under government control. This resulted in UNODC issuing a clarification, if not a correction.
TNI co-organised the 10th Asian Informal Drugs Policy Dialogue in Myanmar, which was attended by governments, experts and civil society organisations from 11 countries in the region. The dialogue nudged governments towards a less repressive and more harm reduction oriented approach, with Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia providing a lead on reform. Input from TNI included a policy briefing on methamphetamine use in the region.
The key results to which TNI contributed significantly in 2019 include:
- A new Caribbean group developing a cannabis policy, based on fair trade principals, is established.
- Fair trade medical cannabis is put on the agenda of national governments in the Caribbean, Morocco as well as of UN bodies.
- A strengthened MOFF able to engage, without fear of reprisals, in national policy processes in Myanmar.
- Discernible progress on reform in a less repressive, more harm reduction oriented direction among some key Asian governments.