This paper explores the current state of counternarcotics policy and policy reform debates in Myanmar. It analyzes the main trends in drug production, trafficking, and consumption, and assesses the key harms and threats these pose to the country.
The paper will provide an overview of Myanmar’s current drug policies and related legislative framework, and assess whether these are effective in addressing the drug-related problems in the country. It will also consider what other impact these policies and laws may have on important issues such as human rights, sustainable development, ethnic conflict, and the peace process.
Finally, the paper will make some recommendations for change and provide suggestions on how Myanmar could benefit from the 2016 Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS 2016).
- Myanmar is the world’s second largest producer of opium after Aghanistan. Following a decade of decline, cultivation has more than doubled since 2006. The production and use of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) is also rising.
- Most of the opium is turned into heroin and exported via neighboring countries, especially to China.
- Decades of civil war and military rule have stimulated drug production and consumption, and marginalized ethnic communities.
- Myanmar has high levels of injecting drug users infected with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.
- Drug policies in Myanmar are repressive and outdated, with an ineffective focus on arresting drug users and eradicating poppy fields.
- The central government is unable to provide quality treatment for drug users. Past political repression and human rights violations by the military government caused an international boycott which prevented international donors from providing assistance.
- The reform process by the new quasi-civilian government includes both a peace process to end the civil war and a review of the country’s drug laws, raising hope for more effective and humane drug policies.
- Myanmar’s drug policies should shift focus and prioritize the provision of services for drug users and promote alternative livelihoods for opium growing communities.
- Drug-related legislation should decriminalize drug use, reduce sentences for other drug-related of - fenses, and allow space for needle exchange programs.
- The government should expand harm reduction projects and provide voluntary treatment programs for drug users.
- The government should formulate a strategic plan to prioritize alternative development programs. Eradication of poppy farms should not take place unless people have sufficient access to alternative livelihoods. As such, China’s opium substitution policy should not continue in its present form.
- Affected communities, especially drug users and opium farmers, need to be involved in drug policy making.
- More attention should be paid to ATS-related problems, which are largely overlooked by current policies
This paper is part of the project Improving global drug policy: Comparative perspectives and UNGASS 2016 by the Brookings Institute.