About the Drugs and Democracy project

TNI’s Drugs & Democracy programme analyses drug policies and trends in the illicit drugs market. TNI examines the underlying causes of drug production and consumption and the impacts of current drug policies on conflict, development,and democracy. The programme facilitates dialogue and advocates evidence-based policies, guided by principles of harm reduction and human rights for users and producers.

TNI's Drugs & Democracy programme

  • Produces rigorous new research and analysis that emerges from on-the-ground interviews with people who use drugs, producers, traffickers, as well as government and intergovernmental officials in critical drugs-producing countries such as Afghanistan, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Myanmar, and Thailand;
  • Analyses, critiques and proposes reforms of international drug policy coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB);
  • Advocates an end to counter-productive ideological wars on drugs, and its replacement by evidence-based policies guided by the principles of harm reduction and human rights for users and producers, as well as the cultural and traditional uses of substances;
  • Promotes humane and just drug policies, supporting drug law reform and sustainable alternative development for the most vulnerable actors in drug markets, notably users and producer;
  • Brings together key government, academic and NGO stakeholders in Informal Drug Policy Dialogues and Expert Seminars to examine critical issues of legislative reform, drug trafficking, prison conditions and international drugs policy. 

TNI's Drugs & Democracy Programme is currently supported by:

Learn more about our activities and achievements in our annual reports, or click here to view all our monthly newsletters, for which you can subscribe here.
TNI’s Drugs & Democracy programme started in 1995, emerging from TNI’s work with peasant farmers in Latin America that sought to defend the human rights of people caught up in the illegal drugs economy and repressed by the “war on drugs.”The initial focus on Latin America led to work on issues such as the effects of chemical spraying in Colombia; the establishment of new US military anti-drug bases in Ecuador, the Dutch Antilles, El Salvador and Ecuador; Plan Colombia and the drug-related obstacles in the Colombian peace talks between FARC guerrilla and the government; and stepped-up forced eradication operations in Bolivia and Peru with human rights violations and deepening social conflicts. This work led to strong relationships with local partners across Latin America.
TNI “has consistently provided the most trustworthy analysis …. Martin Jelsma is increasingly recognized as one of, if not the, outstanding strategists in terms of how international institutions deal with drugs and drug policy.”  
(Martin Jelsma, Coordinator of Drugs and Democracy Programme receiving the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award in 2005)
In the run-up to the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 1998, TNI increasingly became involved in calling for reform of UN drug policies, captured in the international drug control conventions of 1961, 1971, and 1988. The knowledge that TNI built up in working on the UN earned TNI the reputation as one of the most knowledgeable watchdogs of the UN drug control process. At the same time, this increased global focus also led TNI to build up research and analysis on the drugs trade in Central and East Asia.
Since 2004, TNI has initiated a series of Informal Drug Policy Dialogues, with the aim of providing a confidential environment to talk about drugs transparently and free from taboos. These have brought together government officials from more than 30 countries along with representatives of international drug policy bodies and non-governmental experts.
"It is not always easy to explain how we manage to connect the local to the global, in one moment present at a cocaleros meeting in the Andes or talking to heroin users and dealers on the Burmese border, and the next moment participating in a policy conference on alternative development, the EU drugs strategy or UN drug control.” (Martin Jelsma in 10 years: TNI’s Drugs and Democracy Programme, 1998-2008)
TNI takes a non-judgmental approach to the drug-related issues because TNI wants to understand the varied motivations of people who enter the illegal drugs economy, rooted in a desire to reduce the violence and human rights abuses related to both the drugs trade and the attempts to repress it. Understanding - which is not the same as condoning - and dialogue are indispensable for de-escalation of conflict and for moving forward with a human rights based agenda.
All efforts are guided by our intention to contribute to a more coherent policy approach where illicit drugs are regarded as a cross-cutting issue within the broader policy goals of poverty reduction, sustainable development, human security, public health promotion, human rights protection, conflict prevention, protection of the environment, and good governance.
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