F.Following the bouncing ball of international drug policy is an almost impossible task, as every conceivable variable can influence the process of documenting responses to changes in drug dynamics, law enforcement, and harm reduction efforts.
In response, the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), along with a grand coalition of organizations, announced the Global Drug Policy Index (GDPI) – a massive effort to effectively monitor and document international results.
“We have realized that there is a poor understanding of measuring the real impact of drug policy on society on a country-by-country basis – and that is about to change,” said Marie Noudier, director of research and communications at IDPC.
Noudier led an introductory briefing on November 4th about the goals of the GDPI, the extent of its reach and its development. She cited that the current model of documentation produced on behalf of world governments and the UN is out of date and still based on a “drug-free” model of society.
“Most governments continue to take a repressive approach to drug control because of these skewed data, which means they cannot be held responsible for the damage their policies are doing to so many people’s lives,” Noudier told the panel.
With this in mind, the IDPC and its allies examined social measuring instruments beyond abstinence to create a new framework. The World Hunger Index, the World Peace Index and the World Press Freedom Index served as inspiration.
The current top positions are occupied by Norway, New Zealand and Portugal. Brazil, Uganda and Indonesia make up the bottom three.
The GDPI in its current state serves as a proof-of-concept, with a pool of 30 countries serving as a test environment. Each country’s guidelines are examined and ranked in conjunction with the UN Principles on Human Rights, Health and Development.
“It is made up of 75 indicators that span five growth dimensions in drug policy,” explained Noudier. “First, the lack of extreme sentences and answers; second, the proportionality of the criminal justice response; third, health and harm reduction; fourth, access to controlled drugs; and finally development. “
These five factors are represented in the index, with each assigned a numerical score. The aggregation of these scores determines where a country falls in the overall ranking. Although only 30 countries have been surveyed so far, valuable data has emerged and countries with high scores in certain areas may see their rankings being heavily influenced by errors in other areas.
The current top positions are occupied by Norway, New Zealand and Portugal, which, as is well known, decriminalized all drugs as early as 2001. Brazil, led by Anti-Harm President Jair Bolsonaro, comes in last. Uganda and Indonesia complete the bottom three.
How the numbers were cracked
To formulate this model, IDPC turned to large-scale data collection experts. Matthew Wall, a member of the Global Drug Policy Observatory and Head of Politics, Philosophy and International Relations at Swansea University in Wales, is one of the leading figures behind GDPI data.
“Developing a methodology for a project like this is largely an exercise in information compression,” said Wall filter. “By that I mean that in several countries around the world you have an extremely complex policy area and you have to condense it into a series of numbers.”
To collect this data, the GDPI relied on available resources such as the United Nations documentation system; on individual policy data published by each country; and through civil society organizations represented in each area of activity.
Country-specific data collection has been strongly supported by the UN Task Team’s Joint Position on Drugs – a UN report that contains evidence of rights-based policies on drug use from around the world.
In converting this mountain of data and documentation into the five factors of the GDPI, Wall contributed to making the logistics behind the shortage of numbers efficient and ensuring that nothing is lost.
“Ultimately, the index assesses the extent to which these policy recommendations from the international system are implemented by these states,” he explained. “So the 75 indicators that we got were compressed into a series of policy clusters, from which we narrowed them down to five dimensions.”
“This allows us to uncover and distinguish the lazy stories about what is happening in these states from what is actually happening on the ground.”
But despite all these resources, the GDPI team faced certain knowledge gaps. In order to compensate for missing or unavailable information, Wall and his colleagues created a survey that was sent to drug policy experts in the study countries.
“We received 371 responses to this survey,” he said, “and what you see in the indicators driven by the survey is the aggregated opinion of these expert correspondents. It was a real privilege to be able to process all this information on site and in the real world. “
Wall said additional safety nets were put in place throughout the data collection process and further surveys were carried out in collaboration with policy experts and scientific advisory groups to ensure that every indicator in the index was fully analyzed.
Wall believes the potential expansion of GDPI beyond its current 30 countries will benefit both the rigor of the project and its scope.
“I think pragmatically, the more states you have, the more complex the scope of the project,” he said. “Imagine we served 371 people for these 30 states, and in the end we consider 12 to 13 local experts per state as the minimum standard. So each state has some additional resource implications. What enables us, however, is to uncover and differentiate the lazy stories about what is happening in these states and what is actually happening on the ground. “
Reactions from activists in affected countries
Representatives of the participating countries were more than interested observers of the GDPI process, with a handful of representatives taking a position at the launch briefing. They said they were satisfied and relieved with the work the index is doing and explained where their home countries ranked.
“As a Brazilian, I wouldn’t say I’m surprised that Brazil is the worst result in the index.”
Julia Lemgruber, coordinator of the Center for Studies on Public Security and Citizenship in Rio de Janeiro, spoke about her history of drug policy in Brazil and why she is not so shocked by the assessment of her country.
“As a Brazilian, I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by the fact that Brazil is the worst score on the index,” she told the panel. “It’s no surprise, but I feel very comfortable because when I speak to the media in Brazil, we can emphasize how violent the implementation of drug law in Brazil has become. When you translate these numbers from Brazil, translate what I see every day. “
The advent of GDPI is a crucial development, she added. “The criminal justice system does not produce enough data, not enough” [so] that we have a clear idea of what is going on. “
Kenya Cuevas, a renowned transsexual rights attorney who experienced firsthand drug incarceration in Mexico, provided insight into the harm done by Mexican drug policy in practice.
“Despite the fact that Mexico has some of the best policies in the world, they are not being implemented,” she said. “We have an important problem of criminalizing and depriving people of their liberty. The sentences are really exemplary, in my case they are robbery or consumption of substances. I was arrested for using drugs and then charged with selling them. “
For the 11 years that Cuevas was incarcerated, she witnessed how the Mexican judiciary system dealt with drug charges and how fundamental human rights and gender freedoms were violated at every turn. “If you have eight years or more in prison in Mexico, you don’t get … [state-funded] Legal representation, ”she said.
“These models of decriminalization fail because they are not rooted in human rights … and were not created by the people hardest hit by the drug war.”
Meanwhile, representatives from countries with higher rankings in the index like Canada, which are currently making international waves in their pursuit of decriminalization, said that even a good scorecard does not mean that a country’s system is flawless.
“These models of decriminalization fail because they are not rooted in human rights that end legal apparatuses that harm people’s lives, racial justice, and they were not created by the people hardest hit by the drug war,” said Zoe Dodd , co-organizer with the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society.
While the GDPI is still in its infancy, the vast amount of data and conversation it has already unearthed signals progress in laying the groundwork for better knowledge, accountability – and therefore policy – worldwide.
Flag Map of the World (2017) by Angelgreat via Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons 4.0