About the Drugs and Democracy project

Since 1996, TNI’s Drugs & Democracy programme has been analysing trends in the illegal drugs market and global drug policies. The programme has gained an international reputation as one of the leading drug policy research institutes and as a serious critical watchdog of UN drug control institutions, in particular the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).

TNI promotes evidence-based policies guided by the principles of harm reduction, human rights for users and producers, and respect for the cultural and traditional use of natural substances. We advocate reform of the current, out-dated UN conventions on drugs - which were inconsistent from the start and whose arguments have since been discredited by new scientific knowledge, and by pragmatic policies which have proven successful in the field.

For the past decade, the Drugs and Democracy programme has focused primarily on developments in drug policy and their implications for countries in the South. Our strategic objective is to contribute to a more integrated and coherent policy, where illicit drugs are regarded as a cross-cutting issue within the broader development goals of poverty reduction and sustainable development, public health promotion, human rights protection, peace building and good governance. We conduct research in the field, produce high quality analysis and coordinate international conferences, with the dual aim to inform policy-makers and journalists, and foster political debate.

We believe the most effective way to find sustainable, equitable and peaceful solutions for drugs policy, is to start by getting the facts; by understanding objectively (which does not mean condoning or condemning) why different actors become involved in the first place, and then by tackling the root causes.


The Drugs and Democracy programme:

  • Produces rigorous new research and analysis that emerges from on-the-ground interviews with peasant-producers, drugs consumers, traffickers, government and international officials in major drugs-producing countries such as Afghanistan, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Burma and Thailand. 
  • Analyses, critiques and proposes reforms of international drugs 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 the 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, the producers and consumers. 
  • Brings together key government, academic and NGO stakeholders in informal Drug Policy Dialogues to examine critical issues of legislative reform, drug trafficking, prison conditions and international drugs policy.

In 2005, TNI's Drugs and Democracy programme coordinator, Martin Jelsma received the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award:

“Martin Jelsma has consistently provided the most trustworthy analysis of developments in countries that have the most serious drug production problems ... He is increasingly recognized as one of, if not the, outstanding strategists in terms of how international institutions deal with drugs and drug policy.”
11 April 2011, Press release, Drug Policy Alliance.

For a more extensive overview of our work and our views, see: Ten Years - TNI Drugs & Democracy Programme 1998-2008.