A recent report from Harm Reduction International (HRI) sheds light on how richer countries like the United States and Europe continue to provide substantial foreign aid for the global War on Drugs. However, rather than addressing issues like poverty, hunger, healthcare, and education, this money is primarily allocated to law enforcement and military efforts. As anyone familiar with the War on Drugs knows, the police and feds rarely make things better, especially when given firearms.
As a result, the HRI is calling upon governments, including the U.S., to “stop using money from their limited aid budgets” to endorse policies that adversely affect individuals who use drugs. Doing so is inflicting more harm than good; the money could go towards other things, and it’s just plain expensive.
The “Aid for the War on Drugs” report reveals that between 2012 and 2021, 30 donor countries allocated $974 million in international aid for “narcotics control.”
Shockingly, some of this aid, totaling at least $70 million, was directed to countries with the death penalty for drug-related charges. The funding allocated to 16 governments that carry out executions for drug-related convictions is especially troubling.
As detailed in the report, in 2021, U.S. aid funds went to Indonesia to back a “counter narcotics training program.” This occurred in the same year when Indonesia imposed a record-breaking 89 death sentences for drug-related offenses. Japan gave millions to Iran to help pay for their drug-detection dog units, while Iran executed at least 131 people over drugs in 2021.
In the span of a decade, the United States emerged as the most significant contributor, accounting for more than half of the global funding for the drug war, clocking in at $550 million. Following the U.S. were the European Union ($282 million), Japan ($78 million), the United Kingdom ($22 million), Germany ($12 million), Finland ($9 million), and South Korea ($8 million), Marijuana Moment reports.
The War on Drugs receives more foreign aid than school food, early childhood education, labor rights, and mental health care. In the period described by the report, 92 countries received assistance for “narcotics control.” The top recipients were Colombia ($109 million), Afghanistan ($37 million), Peru ($27 million), Mexico ($21 million), Guatemala, and Panama ($10 million each).
“There is a long history of drug policy being used by world powers to strengthen and enforce their control over other populations, and target specific communities,” the report reads. “Racist and colonial dynamics continue to this day, with wealthier governments, led by the U.S., spending billions of taxpayer dollars around the world to bolster or expand punitive drug control regimes and related law enforcement.”
“These funding flows are out of pace with existing evidence, as well as international development, health, and human rights commitments, including the goal to end AIDS by 2030,” the report calls out. “They rely on and reinforce systems that disproportionately harm Black, Brown and Indigenous people worldwide.”
While certain countries, like the U.K., have reduced their expenditure on foreign War on Drugs initiatives, others have chosen to increase their funding. For instance, the U.S. significantly escalated its support for drug war aid at the start of President Joe Biden‘s term.
The news of the report comes at a time when Biden, never an A+ cannabis advocate, is president as the federal government is finally seriously considering rescheduling cannabis.
However, to meet the public where they’re at in a classic political play amid the ongoing federal cannabis scheduling review, the White House has reiterated that President Joe Biden has been unequivocal in his support for legalizing cannabis for medical use. They emphasized, “President Joe Biden has been ‘very clear’ that he’s ‘always supported the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.’”
In August, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about the potential implications of reclassifying cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). She responded, “I don’t want to get ahead of the process. I was asked this question before. So just so that everybody is clear: The president asked the secretary of HHS and also the attorney general to initiate the administrative process to review how marijuana is scheduled, as you just kind of laid out.”
While the United States is the world’s primary contributor to the drug war, HRI’s report highlights how these figures fluctuate, which is vital to remember. For instance, in 2021, the U.S. allocated $301 million in aid for “narcotics control,” a significant increase from the prior year’s $31 million. (However, this figure represents a fraction of what the U.S. invests in the global drug war through other initiatives).
According to the report, Colombia emerged as the largest recipient of this aid.
The one thing the report does not reveal is the specifics, apparently to safeguard the “health and security of implementing partners, and the national interest of the United States.”