During the past decade, drug policy reform has made unprecedented advances at the international, regional and national levels. As members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, we have seen and accompanied several of these changes. In 2016, the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs adopted an outcome document that reorients drug control to more balanced policies. In 2019, the UN System adopted a common position on drug-related matters. Countries have started legally regulating some drugs. And decriminalization of small quantities of drugs for personal use is quietly gaining traction worldwide. High-level discussions on drug policy reform have started among member states of intergovernmental regional forums in Africa, the Americas and Europe.
One particular level is formally absent from this debate, however. It is also the level where policy making is most confronted with the damage caused by punitive drug policies and where the largest numbers of socially vulnerable people live: cities and municipalities.
Cities, which bear the brunt of repressive national and international drug control policies, are growing quickly. The total urban population will represent 68 percent of the world population by 2050. Drug trafficking, the most profitable illicit economy for organized crime, generates visible violence in cities that is used to intimidate citizens and coerce loyalty, as well as to confront law enforcement and secure trafficking. The links between violence, aggressive drug trafficking and blindly punitive legal responses are clear in Latin America and the Caribbean, where 42 of the world’s 50 most violent cities are concentrated along cocaine trafficking routes.
To help cities tackle the problems that repressive policies pose for people in urban areas, and to analyze the capacity of cities to respond, we decided to publish this position paper and offer it to mayors, heads of municipalities and local governments to inform their drug policies. This paper provides an overview of what cities have done, what they are doing now and where they are headed.