Breaking drug policy silos: Examples from France and Canada

A talk by Déborah Alimi, Karine Bertrand, Marie Jauffret-Roustide and Laurie Wdowiak
Inserm and Inserm - Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (Fr)

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About this talk

In the last decade, there has been a shifting international policy environment towards more people-centred and development-oriented approaches to drug policy. Since the UNGASS 2016, increased research and policy venues have shown that drug related problems could only be tackled effectively if addressed in a cross-sectoral manner and with a nuanced understanding of the root causes driving people and communities towards drugs. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic, now considered as a syndemic, has further exacerbated the interrelationships between social inclusion, health access, marginalization, and the illicit drug economy – putting under stress public responses but also encouraging more humane and inclusive strategies. At the international level, some countries have chosen to implement more inclusive and integrated strategies that go beyond strictly repressive strategies. Yet, opportunities for breaking drug policy traditional silos (security/health) are not being fully embraced at national levels. Several countries are opting for a return to policy conservatism over the risks of a holistic approach to drugs that would need to be built. This is notably the case in Francophone countries.

Francophone countries face diverse sets of challenges when it comes to drugs. Engage into international drug policy debates in plural ways, several countries have also developed strong dialogue mechanisms and preferred partnerships for joint research and policy innovations. French and Canadian public actors and NGOs, for example, have developed inclusive and people-centred prevention mechanisms, implemented in cities across the Atlantic. In both countries, this strategy favoured the dissemination of strong and sustainable harm reduction strategies that improve public health incomes and public security. However, while Canada has been one of the first countries to adopt a regulatory framework for cannabis, the current public debate on drugs in France is stalling, surprisingly at the favour of strong, repressive visions. Across the Mediterranean Sea, the evolution of drug demand in Europe has also challenged communities involved in the cultivation of plants used for illicit drugs to adapt for their socio-economic survival. In Morocco, for instance, growers in the Rif had to adopt new strategies that have reconfigured the structure of cannabis culture and tested further the development of balanced policy responses. Despite increased demand for socio-economic measures, international intelligence and law enforcement cooperation prevail.

Taking the example of Francophone countries, this proposed panel seeks to understand the brakes and opportunities for opening the current drug policy thinking beyond traditional binary visions. It explores how researchers and policy actors across Francophone countries are building bridges to help rethinking the conventional interpretative grids towards a more multifaceted and empirically informed way and confronting the dilemmas illicit drug economies bring in a post-pandemic era. Building on innovative initiatives and research in Canada, France and Morocco, it aims at critically reflecting on ongoing drug policy responses and discussing the costs and yet uncertain benefits associated with more opened and multidimensional responses to drugs. It shall serve to advance novel perspectives and pluri-disciplinary approaches for future research and policy prospects.

Déborah Alimi

Independent consultant, Daleth research Researcher, Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne


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