NomadIT Conference Suite

DSA, 2019: DSA2019: Opening up Development

Open University, Milton Keynes, 19/06/2019 – 21/06/2019


Opening up the Drug Policy Debate: Grassroots perspectives [paper]
Date and Start Time [TBD] at [TBD]
Sessions [TBD]


  • Thomas Grisaffi (The University of Reading) email

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Chair Thomas Grisaffi
Discussant Thomas Grisaffi

Short abstract

This panel will bring together scholars to examine the 'opening-up' of the drug policy debate and the implications for those who survive at the very lowest rungs of the illicit global trade.

Long abstract

There is a clear relationship between poverty and drug trafficking. However, governments have tended to focus on the criminal aspects of the latter rather than the redistributive policy implications of the former. The international community, led by the US, still prioritizes drug crop eradication and interdiction actions in 'producer' and 'transit' states, imposing disproportionate costs on developing countries that are on the front line of the international 'drug war'. This approach has destroyed local economies, criminalized some of the most vulnerable sectors of society, legitimized oppressive policing and empowered local militaries. But, after half a century of compliance with the US-led and UN-sanctioned global prohibition regime, political elites have started to push back. Examples include the Commission on Drugs and Democracy (comprised of former heads of state), the 2013 Organization of American States report that prioritizes public health and safety strategies, Jamaica's decriminalizing reforms in 2015, and Bolivia's participatory model to regulate coca cultivation. This panel will bring together a set of scholars to examine the 'opening-up' of the drug policy debate and the implications for those who survive at the very lowest rungs of this illicit global trade. The organizers will engage scholars working on the drug trade from a number of disciplinary perspectives and at varying sites to examine similarities and differences in grassroots experiences along the drug commodity chain.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Between the 'wellbeing of mankind' and the pursuit of project funding: UN agencies and the war on drugs in Africa

Author: Axel Klein (University of Swansea) email
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Short abstract

UNODC is active in Africa, calling for action against cocaine trafficking and leading a campaign for the international control of tramadol; against advice of medical practitioners. Is the public good conflicting with organisational interest?

Long abstract

Over the past 20 years the 'war on drugs' has expanded in Africa'. One of the most aggressive efforts at awareness raising was by UNODC in the West African cocaine trade to Europe. It placed an anti-colonial, north/south rhetoric at the service of an interventionist agenda.

In the process UNODC positioned itself as centre of expertise. African states created specialised agencies that became interlocutors and data providers; UNODC channelled training, equipment and jobs.

Dissatisfaction over unintended consequences and failure to address problems among African policy makers and CSOs now coincide with global revisions to the status of cannabis. But Africa is locked out of the cannabis economy.

Agencies like ECOWAS have become rivals for EU funded drug control projects, and donors are deprioritizing drugs.

The agency's response was opening a new front, advocating the scheduling of prescription medicines, which are 'abused' in West Africa.

But prescription medicines are championed by African medical professionals, increasingly frustrated by the inability to access analgesic medication because of the drug control system which UNODC is at the apex of. While the incidence of non communicable diseases is rising fast, opiate based pain management medication is unavailable across the continent.

UNODC is at risk of being drastically re-defined. Once an ally in the fight against criminal disruption it is now an obstacle to economic development and humane patient care. The challenge for the agency now lies in managing reputational risk, maintaining its claim of being a voice for Africa, without offending the donor community.

Turning Over New Leaf? Drug Policy as Clientelism in Plurinational Bolivia

Author: Susan Brewer-Osorio (University of Arizona ) email
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Short abstract

This paper analyzes government approaches to coca production in Bolivia. The paper finds evidence of a 'carrot and stick' approach whereby drug policy is a political tool. The government eradicates in response to political opposition and sends development aid to reward electoral support.

Long abstract

After decades of harsh drug laws, President Evo Morales (2005-) instrumented a policy shift towards a harm-reduction approach in Bolivia. Morales' drug policy reform decriminalized coca cultivation and empowered communities to monitor production levels, reducing cultivation in Bolivia by 34 percent. However, Morales upheld a 1988 law that differentiated legal, surplus and illicit coca production areas resulting in subnational policy variation. This paper takes advantage of Bolivia's distinct drug policy approach to analyze the factors that shape government approaches to drug crop production. Why do governments forcibly eradicate drug crops in some areas, while using positive incentives, such as development aid, to control cultivation in others? The main finding is that in Bolivia, drug policy is shaped by a 'carrot and stick' approach whereby the national government relies on forced eradication of coca in areas with an active political opposition and utilizes development aid in areas with a strong base of electoral support. The conclusion is that Bolivian drug policy is enforced selectively as a political tool to repress oppositions and to protect core constituencies, thereby resembling traditional clientelism. This finding is supported by empirical evidence from primary sources including interviews with Bolivian government and community leaders, analysis of a news archive, and United Nations coca cultivation survey data.

Illicit cocaine capital flows and their implications for rural development in Central America

Author: Zoe Pearson (University of Wyoming) email
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Short abstract

Illicit cocaine flows and the capital they generate represent a large, yet understudied, influence in Central American economies. This paper presents estimates of these cocaine flows and their development implications for local peoples and economies at the sites of cocaine transhipment.

Long abstract

Central America has become a major cocaine transhipment zone in the twenty-first century as a result of Caribbean and Mexican routes being eliminated through counternarcotics efforts. The capital that accompanies cocaine flows through the isthmus, and that remains in rural nodes of cocaine transfer, represents an unprecedented source of development and economic change for some of the most impoverished communities in the hemisphere. Our estimates of cocaine's potential economic influence in Central America are the first to utilize data provided by the United States' Office of National Drug Control Policy's Consolidated Counter Drug Database (CCDB). We use the CCDB data along with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and World Bank wholesale cocaine price estimates to calculate estimates the value of primary cocaine movements passing through Central American countries from 2000-2014. Ethnographic data provides us with examples for estimating the cocaine generated rents captured in rural transit zones. In doing so we demonstrate that cocaine transport through Central America has significant development implications for the region, and, in particular, for local peoples and economies at the sites of cocaine transhipment.

Heroin Production Crisis in Mexico - “The Last Harvest”

Author: Romain Le Cour Grandmaison (Université Paris 1 - Panthéon-Sorbonne) email
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Short abstract

While fentanyl is killing thousands of people in the US, it also has dramatic socio-economic consequences in Mexico, where poppy-producing peasants used to rely on US demand for heroin, especially over the past decade, in order to survive.This paper will examine a rare case of drugs production, where drugs are not profitable anymore.

Long abstract

This paper shows that the dramatic rise of fentanyl use in the US is generating a parallel and rapid collapse in the price offered for raw opium in rural Mexico, whereretail prices have fallen up to 80%, putting local farmers, as well as entire communities in an unstainable economic position. While fentanyl is killing thousands of people in the US, it also has dramatic social and economic consequences on the southern side of the border, where poppy-producing peasants used to rely on US demand for heroin, especially over the past decade, in order to survive.This paper will examine a very rare case of drug production, where drugs are not profitable anymore.

This paper is based on fieldwork conducted in the Mexican State of Guerrero in May 2018, in a mountainous and extremely marginalized region of Mexico, whose inhabitants depend for their livelihoods on opium production. I carried observation and interviews with local villagers, opium producers, drug-traffickers, and elected politicians. I will address an under-investigated issue of drugs and development: the direct socio-political effect of an “illegal” economic crisis, and its impact on local social groups in terms of rural development, the organization of security and violence, as well as their positioning towards the State. Finally, this paper will allow to address the national and international political economy of drug trafficking, at a moment where drugs policies in Mexico are more questioned than ever.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.