TNI’s Drugs & Democracy programme analyses drug policies and trends in the illicit drugs market, examining the underlying causes of drug production and consumption, and the impacts of current drug policies on conflict, development and democracy. The programme seeks to give voice to small-scale producers, facilitates dialogues among policy makers, and advocates evidence-based policies, guided by principles of harm reduction and human rights for producers, as well as users.


Following TNI’s identification of the inter se mechanism as a means by which a group of dissenting countries could modify certain treaty provisions among themselves, and testimony later given at the Senate, Canada became the second country to legalise use of cannabis. Following involvement in a number of Asian policy dialogues co-organized by TNI, Thailand announced its intention to legalise medical cannabis, which a number of Southern African countries also did in 2018. A Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Regional Commission on Marijuana has also recommended legalisation of cannabis, with Aruba already indicating it intends to do so. Mexico has scheduled a parliamentary debate on the same question.

As the momentum for legalisation of (medical) cannabis rolls on inexorably, the question of small growers’ rights, rural development considerations and access to opening licit markets became more prominent on TNI’s agenda. TNI organised workshops with farmers in the Caribbean and Morocco, facilitating exchanges between them as well as workshops on Fair Trade Cannabis and meetings with policy officials. The governments of St Vincent and Jamaica subsequently introduced special procedures for small farmers’ access to cannabis markets. In 2018, Peru followed Colombia’s announcement of the year before for proposed legislation to guarantee access for small farmers to legally regulated cannabis markets.

Credit: Dania Putri, TNI

Mexico also withdrew its objection to Bolivia’s earlier withdrawal in respect of traditional use of coca, and subsequent re-adherence to the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This is significant insofar as it restores Latin American unity on the need for reform, and signifies Mexico’s commitment to this. TNI provided expert testimony to a case of personal use of coca in Spain, which laid a legal precedent that no crime was involved.

TNI contributed to the development of new human rights guidelines in respect of growers, which has found support in the European Union’s position paper on alternative development published in 2018, as well as in the CARICOM commission’s report.

Eight countries are now spearheading an insistence in UN forums that implementation of international drugs conventions must be consistent with human rights obligations as agreed in the UN General Special Assembly on Drugs Outcome Document of 2016. For the first time, the UN Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC) has said repeatedly that drug control is not intended to target small-scale growers, marking a major breakthrough in respect of repression towards small-scale growers.