Martin Jelsma

Martin Jelsma

Programme Director

Martin Jelsma is a political scientist who has specialised in Latin America and international drugs policy.  In 2005, he received the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship, which stated that Jelsma "is increasingly recognized as one of, if not the, outstanding strategists in terms of how international institutions deal with drugs and drug policy."

In 1995 he initiated and has since co-oordinated TNI's Drugs & Democracy Programme which focuses on drugs and conflict studies with a focus on the Andean/Amazon region, Burma/Myanmar and Afghanistan, and on the analysis and dialogues around international drug policy making processes (with a special focus on the UN drug control system). Martin is a regular speaker at international policy conferences and advises various NGOs and government officials on developments in the drugs field. He is co-editor of the TNI Drugs & Conflict debate papers and the Drug Policy Briefing series.

Work area:

Areas of expertise:

Illicit Drugs Trafficking & the War on Drugs in Latin America; Drugs and Conflict; Democratisation & Demilitarisation in Latin America; Chemical and Biological War on Drugs; Alternative Harm Reduction Policies; Afghanistan, Burma, Andes


Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship

Media experience:

Martin is an experienced interviewee and publishes in several Dutch newspapers including Vrij Nederland and NRC Handelsblad.



Contact details:

Email: mjelsma [at]

Languages spoken:

English, Dutch, Spanish

Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Recent content by Martin Jelsma

Prospects for Treaty Reform and UN Coherence on Drug Policy

May 2015
Can UNGASS 2016 realistically initiate a process of modernizing the global drug control system and breathe oxygen into a system risking asphyxiation?

Towards a Healthier Legal Environment

February 2015
The decision of the Myanmar Government to review drug laws is not only timely, but also offers a prospect to improve the drugs legislation and to ensure that the laws address drug-related problems in the country more effectively.

Fatal Attraction: Brownfield's Flexibility Doctrine and Global Drug Policy Reform

November 2014
State-level cannabis reforms have exposed the inability of the United States to abide by the terms of the legal bedrock of the global drug control system. It is calls for a conversation the US federal government wishes to avoid. The result is a new official position on the UN drugs treaties that, despite its seductively progressive tone, serves only to sustain the status quo and may cause damage beyond drug policy.

International Impacts of the U.S. Trend toward Legal Marijuana

October 2014
American attitudes toward marijuana policy are shifting. Recent polls suggest that the majority of Americans think marijuana use should be legalized. How might a shift in American marijuana policies affect the prohibitionist drug treaty system?

Reforming the global drug-control system: The stakes for Washington

July 2014
Washington's new narrative defends the integrity of the UN drug control conventions, while allowing more flexible interpretations

Cannabis regulation and UN treaty reform

July 2014
2nd European Harm Reduction Conference 2014 in Basel; "Cannabis regulation and UN treaty reform", speech by Martin Jelsma, Transnational Institute, Amsterdam

Scheduling in the international drug control system

June 2014
Scheduling is mostly priotised in it's repressive pole, though present debates are increasingly highlighting the need to modify the balance of the system in order to affirm the importance of the principle of health.

Repressive policies only stoking Asean's drug problem

June 2014
The strategy of Asean's 10 member countries to become "drug free" by 2015 is failing dramatically. In the last decade, opium cultivation in the region has doubled, drug use -- especially of methamphetamines, a powerful synthetic stimulant -- has increased significantly, and there remain strong links between drugs, conflict, crime and corruption.

Bouncing Back

May 2014
TNI's indepth examination of the illegal drug market in the Golden Triangle, which has witnessed a doubling of opium production, growing prison populations and repression of small-scale farmers. This report details the failure of ASEAN's 'drug free' strategy and the need for a new approach.

The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition

March 2014
Cannabis was condemned by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as a psychoactive drug with “particularly dangerous properties” and hardly any therapeutic value. Ever since, an increasing number of countries have shown discomfort with the treaty regime’s strictures through soft defections, stretching its legal flexibility to sometimes questionable limits.