Growing Cannabis Industry In recent years, the United States and countries around the globe have legalized medical marijuana. Several states in the U.S. have gone further and decriminalized the recreational use of cannabis. Growers and distributors of cannabis in the U.S. and Canada have been capitalizing on the growing cannabis industry. Doors have also been opening for companies based in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries like Jamaica, Colombia and Uruguay.

According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of the world’s population uses marijuana for medicinal remedies. People know Latin American and Caribbean countries for their expansive farms and high levels of agricultural exports. Cannabis companies can leverage these existing production and distribution channels to their benefit. Ideal climate conditions coupled with increasing investment flows have positioned South America and the Caribbean for explosive growth. Some estimate the industry to grow to $55.8 billion by 2025.

Jamaican Agribusiness Shifts Priorities

In 2015, Jamaica became one of the first countries to decriminalize marijuana. Jamaicans can possess up to two ounces of marijuana. A license to grow marijuana costs $300 and allows citizens to cultivate five cannabis plants. The government is taking proactive steps to capitalize on the growing number of countries legalizing the use of marijuana by supporting local companies and universities in their research and production.

In September 2019, Jamaica’s Ministry of Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, announced it would be partnering with Harvard International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute (HIPI). Through this partnership, HIPI will conduct research on the pharmacological benefits of cannabis. Jamaica aims to capitalize on this partnership and use it as an opportunity to grow and develop its national marijuana industry.

The Alternative Development Programme (ADP), a new government program in Jamaica, has the purpose of helping farmers benefit from the growing cannabis industry. The purpose of the program is to assist farmers in their transition from small-scale farming to large-scale farming to supply large international companies.

Uruguay’s Trailblazing Stance on Marijuana

In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize both the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana. Combating gang violence was one of the Uruguayan government’s top motivators behind legalization. Despite it being well-known as one of Latin America’s safest countries, Uruguay’s crime rate has been steadily on the rise. By targeting drug cartels’ highest source of revenue, the government hopes to curb the growing violence stemming from the illicit drug trade.

Fotmer Life Sciences is a cannabis cultivator based in Uruguay. In September 2019, Fotmer became the first company to legally export medical cannabis from Latin America. Its first export partner was Australia, and Fotmer also trades with Germany and Canada. Diego Oliviera, the head Uruguay’s national drug agency, hopes to expand Uruguay’s place in the marijuana industry by expanding exports from solely marijuana plants to finished products, like oils. Although Uruguay is home to three other marijuana-based companies, Fotmer is the only company with a license to process and export the marijuana flower and products for direct consumption.

Marijuana as Colombia’s New Most Popular Export

Colombia, known for its petroleum and coal supply, can attribute 57 percent of its total export value to just that. Coffee and spices make up an additional 6 percent of exports due to Colombia’s ideal climate and 12 hours of daylight year-round. It is looking to attract cannabis cultivators using the same ideal conditions as a selling point and viable alternative to growing in countries like Canada and the United States, where people have to spend significant amounts of money on greenhouses for colder seasons.

Desired Effect of Legalization on Crime

In Colombia, the laws regarding marijuana are not as progressive as those in Uruguay. People can possess small amounts of marijuana and medicinal use is legal, but recreational use remains a criminal act. Similar to Uruguay, the Colombian government hopes that legalizing cannabis use will decrease gang and drug-related violence.

Drug- and gang-related violence is second to cancer as a leading cause of death in Colombia. It is too soon to tell whether legalization has had an impact on crime, but the strategy is to crimp revenue streams of gangs by making the illicit marijuana market. Now that it is legal for marijuana to grow for medicinal purposes, cannabis industry workers hope to attract investors. The Colombian Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA) has 29 member companies who have invested over $600 million in the construction of medical marijuana facilities.

It is becoming increasingly popular for Latin American and Caribbean countries to capitalize on the opportunities that arise from the growing cannabis industry. As more and more companies look to locate their farms to the Caribbean and South America, LAC countries are seeking to benefit by coupling foreign investment with academic and industrial research in the hopes of reaping socio-economic dividends for everyone.

– Desiree Nestor
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Palau
Palau is a small country in the Pacific Ocean that attracts tourists from all over the world with its amazing scuba diving sites, stunning rock islands and gorgeous beaches. With a population of about 21,000 people, Palau is continuously working towards improving life on the island by bringing focus to some of its biggest issues such as lack of funding for non-communicable diseases, and drug and alcohol addiction in children and adults. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Palau.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Palau

  1. According to the CIA World Fact Book, life expectancy in Palau was 70.4 years for men and 77 years for women as of 2018. The life expectancy has stayed relatively the same over the years with only a two-year decrease since 1995.
  2. The leading causes of death in Palau are non-communicable diseases (NCD) with cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes being the four main causes of death in the country. Because of the lack of funds going into the prevention and treatment of these diseases, President Tommy Remengesau Jr. signed a law in 2016 to set 10 percent of the revenue raised from alcohol and tobacco taxes aside to finance NCD prevention.
  3. Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease which can cause high fever, headache, vomiting and skin rash. Palau is no stranger to this disease and the Ministry of Health has been educating and bringing awareness to the public ever since its biggest outbreak in 2008. In December 2018, the Ministry of Health reported its first-ever cases of the Dengue Serotype 3 virus which the small country had never seen. It immediately issued an alert and urged the public to search for and kill mosquitos in and around homes, wear clothes to cover skin and use bug repellant. Fortunately, the country did not report any deaths from dengue fever and it had only 250 cases as of June 2019.
  4. Both children and adults in Palau have a dependence on drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. The country has created many educational efforts and protective laws for children, but despite these efforts, 70 percent of children chew on a drug called betel nut. The betel nut which has been a part of cultural practices since the 1970s is a popular and accessible drug on the island. According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, ingesting this drug can lead to oral cancers, stomach ulcers and heart disease when used regularly.
  5. Estimates determined the infant mortality to be 14 deaths to 1,000 live births as of 2015 in Palau, which was a 55 percent decrease since 1990.  Palau’s National Health Profile explains that 75 percent of expecting mothers used betel nut and tobacco during their pregnancy between 2007 and 2013. These were the main causes of the high rate of preterm complications that resulted in deaths of newborns. Along with these two risks, the health profile also highlights that overweight and obese mothers had a higher risk of preterm delivery as well. Because health services have become more available, mothers are now receiving education and given prenatal care preventing the infant mortality rate from going up.
  6. Health care and health services are becoming accessible to more and more families and children which has caused the mortality rate to decrease on the islands. Obesity still remains a problem for 24 percent of children, though. Many children do not have any knowledge of good eating habits and do not participate in any physical activity. Humanium reports that only 10 percent of children are eating fruits and vegetables in Palau.
  7. Palau reportedly has approximately 300 children with special needs on the registry with the Health Department but only around 189 are receiving special education services. Most special needs kids will receive health care, education and social services up until the age of 21. Once they reach 21 years of age there are not many resources on the small country to assist them in adapting and transitioning into the adult life which leaves these families without any aid.
  8. Although crime rates are low in Palau, emergencies do happen and getting help from police officers or medical personnel can be very difficult. The ability for police officers and ambulances to respond to crimes and medical emergencies can sometimes be very limited because of the lack of essential equipment, response vehicles and roads on the island. Ambulances often do not have proper equipment or staff. In rural areas receiving ambulance services is much more limited.
  9. Pollution affects 25 percent of the available drinking water in Palau. Groundwater pollution is caused by poorly maintained septic tanks and saltwater intrusion while land-based pollution, gasoline and oil from motors and ships impact coastal waters. Due to the ongoing development of the country, further pollution from sewages, chemicals and oil spills will be unavoidable if people do not control them which could greatly affect the country’s population.
  10. Seventy-one percent of the population in Palau live in urban areas on the islands of Koror and Airai. People without land rights must lease houses from the government which are usually one or two-story homes made of wood or cement with tin roofs. Living conditions are improving, however, due to the work of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the National Development Bank of Palau. They have been working together to create homes which will use less energy and reduce dependence on petroleum fuels that are imported to the island every year. Although this is an ongoing project having built only 60 homes, the improvement in living conditions will not only help the environment but also the people of this small country.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Palau show progress within its 340 islands. Government officials are putting many efforts into fixing the issues that Palau and its people are facing. By creating programs to help aid the disabled, providing education on health issues, passing laws to receive the funds necessary for treatments and starting new projects such as the building of energy-efficient homes, Palau is on the right track to bettering life on its islands.

– Jannette Aguirre
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in Estonia
Estonia, a beautiful, Baltic country with a historically turbulent background, is a striking model of a nation that refuses to let adversities stand in the way of its mission for improvement. Despite Estonia’s many challenges over the last two decades, it continues to prove that positive change is possible, no matter how small. These 10 facts about life expectancy in Estonia demonstrate the most notable progress the country has made in pursuit of a longer and higher quality of life for its people. 

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Estonia

  1. As of 2018, the life expectancy for Estonian women was 82 years, while it was 72.3 years for men, adding roughly three years to the lifespans of both genders since 2008. While these numbers are still slightly below the EU average for 2018 (84 years for women and 79 for men), Estonia has made quite a dent in its life expectancy gap over the last decade.
  2. Preventable diseases largely affect low life expectancy in Estonia. Cardiovascular disease is responsible for killing three in five women and nearly half of all Estonian men. Various types of cancer account for the deaths of 22 percent of women and 27 percent of men, making it the leading cause of death in Estonia.
  3. In the last decade, Estonia’s Parliament introduced initiatives to address the number of deaths resulting from risky behaviors like alcohol abuse, injectable drug use and smoking. Initiatives involved a national Drug Prevention Policy and public awareness campaigns on the harmful effects of alcohol use and smoking. Daily smoking is down to 17.2 percent in 2018 compared to 30 percent in 2001. People who used injectables for at least three years decreased from 21 percent in 2005 to eight percent in 2011. Alcohol abuse is still alarmingly high, though, and accounted for 21.4 percent of all casualties in 2015 despite awareness campaigns and restrictions on alcohol sale and increased excise taxes.
  4. The Estonian Government approved a National Health Plan for 2014 through 2020 to improve the quality and accessibility of health care institutions. To ensure all socioeconomic groups had access to the same quality of care, Estonia opened a national health insurance fund for patient reimbursements, required doctors and pharmacists to prescribe the most affordable medication available and launched an online platform to ensure that the health care system remained as transparent as possible.
  5. Estonia launched an e-prescription service alongside its National Health Plan. By 2011, the medical field issued 84 percent of all prescriptions digitally with a 90 percent satisfaction rate. This digital shift also benefited pharmacies, cutting staff costs related to incorrect prescriptions by 90 percent and putting considerable savings back into the national health fund in order to further improve life expectancy in Estonia.
  6. Around 44,000 people or 3.4 percent of the Estonian population lived in absolute poverty as of 2017. Low income and poorly educated populations in Estonia were 50 percent more likely to develop respiratory diseases and 40 percent more likely to develop hypertension than those operating at the highest levels of income. But, social transfers in the form of benefits and pensions saved 22.8 percent of the population from slipping into poverty in the first place.
  7. Estonian’s who go on to earn a university degree may live 14 years longer than those who only attain lower secondary educations. In 2014, 90 percent of Estonian adults between the ages of 25 and 64 had achieved upper secondary or tertiary forms of education. This number is comparatively much higher than the OECD average of 75 percent.
  8. Economic growth in Estonia is directly related to the country’s astonishing technological advancement since 1991. This advancement has played a major role in creating jobs in Estonia. According to The World Bank, over 14,000 new tech companies registered in Estonia in 2011, a 40 percent increase since 2008. High-tech companies also account for 15 percent of the country’s GDP.
  9. In an effort to combat high unemployment among Estonian youth, the country established ENTRUM (Youth Entrepreneurship Development Programme). The program aims to encourage creativity, problem-solving skills and knowledge of risk management. Between 2010 and 2012, over 1,000 teens participated in the program. Former participants went on to create 59 new businesses, the most successful employing upwards of 60 people.
  10. Estonia boasts a massive network of over 33,000 registered nonprofit organizations acting as service providers for citizens. These organizations employ 28,000 Estonian, making the nonprofit sector responsible for the paid employment of four to five percent of the national workforce. 

Despite its turbulent past, Estonia has proven over the last two decades that it is capable of great improvement. These improvements come in the form of technological advancement, transparent and efficient health care and government initiatives focused on accessing all citizens and ensuring they receive the care they need. 

Ashlyn Jensen
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Belarus
Belarus is a former member of the Soviet Union, located between Russia, Poland and Lithuania. Like most post-Soviet states, Belarus has experienced substantial economic and societal problems since attaining sovereignty. The country has developed under a dictatorship and today Belarus has virtually full employment and an official poverty rate of less than six percent. However, the country still faces significant obstacles to public health and economic development. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Belarus

  1. There is a Stark Gender Gap: The first of the 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus is that the average life expectancy is 73 years, but there is a significant disparity in life expectancy between males and females. While women in Belarus have an average life expectancy of 79 years, men in the country live until only 67.8 on average. Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death in Belarus. While a genetic predisposition is typically the leading risk factor for non-communicable disease, lifestyle choices are commonly to blame in Belarus. The biggest risk factors for both Belarusian men and women are alcohol consumption, tobacco use and a lack of exercise.
  2. Alcoholism is a Major Problem: Belarus is one of the heaviest alcohol consuming countries in the world. In 2010, Belarusian males consumed an average of almost 29 liters of pure alcohol per capita annually. By 2016, this number was down to 18 liters per capita, which was still triple the global average. Alcohol abuse has concrete consequences for life expectancy in Belarus as alcohol consumption was the cause of over half of liver disease in Belarus in 2016.
  3. There is a Culture of Male Tobacco Use: Almost half of all adult men in Belarus smoke daily, while less than 10 percent of women do. Despite laws establishing an age minimum of 18 for purchasing tobacco, one in every 20 boys between 10 and 14 years old identified themselves as daily smokers in 2016 alone. That same year, tobacco use related to over a quarter of deaths from non-communicable diseases among males in Belarus.
  4. Men Often Die Early: Premature death is very common, particularly among males, skewing data for the average life expectancy for men in Belarus. In contemporary Belarus, an average of close to 40 percent of men dies prematurely between the ages of 30 and 70. Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death in Belarus, accounting for almost 90 percent of all mortalities and the vast majority of premature deaths.
  5. Belarus Guarantees Health Care: The Constitution of Belarus guarantees that the government will provide free, accessible health care to all Belarusians. This does not translate into universally free health care but does include free emergency care, vaccinations, hospital stays and childbirth. According to the 2019 Bloomberg Health Efficiency Index, Belarus ranks within the top 50 most efficient health care systems globally.
  6. Suicide is Prevalent: In 2019, Belarus had the fifth-highest suicide rate in the world. Further, men were reportedly six times more at risk than women. This is largely linked to alcoholism, which is far more common among Belarusian men than women.
  7. Premature Death Hurts Economically and Demographically: According to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization, the loss of productivity and government expenditure associated with premature deaths cost the Belarusian economy over five percent of its GDP every year. Belarus is one of the fastest shrinking countries due to its net population decline of 750,000 since 1990.
  8. Substance Abuse is a Rural Problem: Rural regions of Belarus, particularly those bordering Russia and Lithuania, experience many alcohol-related deaths at a disproportionate level. This is largely due to increased poverty, which fuels the widespread production of homemade alcohol. One of the first-ever studies on rural alcoholism and homemade alcohol took place in 2016, but due to its significant impact on life expectancy in Belarus, as well as its unregulated nature, the government has made the alcohol black market a legislative priority.
  9. Many Slavic Countries Have Similar Problems: Russia, Belarus’s closest ally, has higher rates of suicide, substance abuse and premature mortality than its neighbor. It has a similar gender gap in life expectancy and is also experiencing a decline in population. Belarus’ cultural, political and geographic proximity to countries like Russia, which have similar cultures of unhealthiness, strengthen may of its problems.
  10. The Government Has Made Steps: The government of Belarus has taken action recently to improve the country’s health standards. In 2018, the World Health Organization reported that the total alcohol consumption per capita had fallen to just 10 liters. In February 2019, the Belarusian president instituted new regulations on the tobacco industry in order to decrease its use, particularly around children.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus show that the tradition of substance abuse impacts the country’s life expectancy gravely, which Belarus largely ignored until recent years. Belarus’ robust health care system shows that the government has an interest in public health. Until recent years, state-run and international health organizations alike had difficulty combating the country’s culture of unhealthiness. This has become a clear governmental priority as reflected in the gradual shift toward more restricted access to tobacco and alcohol.

Since 2015, more studies on alcoholism in Belarus have published than ever before, and the issues of premature death and life expectancy have become common pieces of the national dialogue. Although Belarus has not yet definitively solved the problem of premature death and substance abuse, the country is certainly on the right path to reversing its health trends.

Daniel Rothberg
Photo: Flickr

midterm elections in the Philippines
Millions of voters marched to the polls on May 13, 2019, for the 2019 midterm election in the Philippines. More than 18,000 government positions were up for election, but all eyes were on the Senate race due to its influence on President Rodrigo Duterte’s authoritarian agenda.

All 12 Duterte-backed Senate candidates won by a landslide, demonstrating the popularity of President Duterte’s policies. Three candidates in the spotlight were former special assistant to President Bong Go, former police chief and the architect of Duterte’s drug war, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, and Imee Marcos, the daughter of the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.

The Consolidation of Power

The results indicate that the destructive drug war plaguing the Philippines is far from over. So far, the conflict has resulted in a total of 22,983 deaths since Duterte took office in 2016, according to the Philippine National Police. This statistic includes suspected drug users, drug pushers and civilians living in impoverished communities, all of whom the President and his police force see as collateral damage.

During Duterte’s war on drugs, not a single drug lord received apprehension. Further, the drug war has not effectively reduced drug use or decelerated the drug trade in the Philippines. On the contrary, the drug war has caused the prices of methamphetamines, or shabu, to lower by a third of the original price, increasing the accessibility and prevalence of the drug.

Additionally, Duterte’s policies include reinstating the death penalty and lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 to 9 years old. Before the midterm elections, a portion of the Senate did not approve of Duterte’s policies, resulting in political gridlock. Now, Duterte’s newly-consolidated legislative power gives him the upper hand in following through with these policies.

Duterte’s High Approval Rating

Despite Duterte’s undemocratic tactics, his approval rating remains high at 81 percent. Duterte has garnered support for his strongman leadership and his promises to keep the streets safe. His popularity reveals the nation’s fragility and puts into question the stability of the Philippines’ political structures.

The Opposition

The opposition still holds a stake in the political landscape despite the lack of congressional representation after the midterm election in the Philippines.

The opposition includes key figures such as former Senator Leila de Lima and Rappler journalist, Maria Ressa. Duterte has imprisoned both Lima and Ressa in order to silence their critiques against his administration, but human rights groups are dedicated to releasing them from prison, claiming that they received conviction without a fair trial. These human rights groups include the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and FORUM-ASIA, and they are determined to hold the Filipino government accountable for all human rights violations.

Efforts abroad are also looking to combat the Duterte administration, such as the Malaya Movement. The Malaya Movement is a U.S.-based organization that organizes events such as rallies and summits and mobilizes individuals to petition against the drug war and government corruption in the Philippines. Its mission is to broaden the opposition against Duterte’s policies and endorse freedom and democracy in the Philippines.

– Louise Macaraniag
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Latin American Drug Cartels Target Impoverished Children

Drug cartels are a rising problem everywhere, especially for those that are in poverty. Children, specifically children in poverty, are generally the most vulnerable population anywhere in the world. Latin American drug cartels target impoverished children specifically due to their innocence and willingness to obey. Although this situation seems unfixable, people are uniting together against Latin American drug cartels, providing much needed hope.

The Situation

In Latin America, 43 percent of children live in poverty. These children’s come from families with no money for food, clothing or shelter. Cartels know the struggles of these children, so they offer them work. Because many feel they have no choice but to accept work from Latin American drug cartels, 80 percent of children under 25 agree to work for them.

Young children in Mexico and other Latin American countries draw less suspicion than older individuals and are willing to work for little money. As a result, the cartels use them in every way possible. Cartels often send children unaccompanied to push drugs across borders. Subsequently, border security will help unaccompanied children, thus enabling drug traffickers to smuggle drugs across borders.

How Countries Combat Drug Cartels

Luckily for these children, countries are taking steps to eliminate cartels. Recently, Mexico initiated a joint investigative team with the U.S. to fight against drug cartels. The U.S. and Mexico have worked together to combat cartels since the 1970s. For instance, one program, the Merida Initiative, worked to stop the flow of illegal weapons from the U.S. into Mexico and, subsequently, Latin American cartels. Similarly, the U.S. and Mexico offer amnesty to drug dealers in exchange for information.

This new joint investigative team is based in Chicago and directly targets cartel finances. Cartels survive by distributing goods to suppliers and laundering money. Therefore, disrupting their finances and cracking down on money laundering will drastically slow their production. In doing so, the team intends to weaken and ultimately stop Latin American drug cartels.

How Nonprofit Organizations and KIND Help

Nonprofit organizations band together to help the children that drug smugglers employed previously. One organization in particular, KIND, is dedicated to offering such help. KIND protects children’s rights when unaccompanied children are detained by the U.S. and when they are on the move. KIND ensures detained children receive necessary legal aid, especially as these children are burdened with an immigration system they do not understand.

With the U.S. and Mexico targeting drug cartels’ financial assets and nonprofit organizations providing the necessary help, there is hope to eliminate drug cartels and keep vulnerable children safe. The U.S. and Mexico, along with nonprofit organizations, are executing solutions to keep drug cartels away from children and shut them down altogether.

– Emme Chadwick
Photo: Pixabay

Drug Use in MexicoSouth of the border of the United States of America, the United States of Mexico is trying to stay afloat from rapid increase and usage of drugs throughout the country. However, current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has officially declared the end of the country’s war on drugs. In fact, he has declared peace over the nation. Below are some important facts about drug use in Mexico.

Drug Use in Mexico: The Numbers

Based on drug sales alone from Mexico to America, Mexican drug cartels take in about $19 billion to $29 billion annually.

In the time span of five years, nearly 48,000 people have been killed in suspected drug-related violence. In addition, there has been an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 killed due to the War on Drugs. This is since the beginning of Calderon’s presidency.

The War on Drugs and Civilian Defense

Recently, a force called autodefensas (autodefenses) has popped up around the country to help with the defense against drug cartels on their communities.

At the start of President Felipe Calderon election, he sent over 6,000 soldier’s into the state of Michoacán to help fight against the drug cartels that were ravishing Michoacán. As a result, this action began the War on Drugs.

From the start of the War on Drugs, civilians have formed their own ways of defending their country and communities. In fact, the movement of autodefansas doubled within seven years, starting at 250 members and reaching to 600 by 2013.

Next, the cartels are prone to ravish a community by exploiting business owners and forcing payments on the town without legal reasons for doing so. This keeps the cycle of poverty within the country swirling, certainly making it harder for people to break free of drug use or to make profits from their businesses.

The autodefensas groups formed out of a need to protect and supervise their neighborhoods from the corruption of the drug cartel. With men such as Alfredo Castillo, the Security Commissioner for the state of Michoacán, and Estanislao Beltran, they are attempting to break the cycle of the War on Drugs. Additionally, they hope to again be able to use their profits and agriculture to profit the well-being of their state and country.

Drug Use in Mexico

In 2016-2017, a national survey was done on Drugs, Alcohol, and Tobacco Consumption (ENCODAT) to determine the highest states of drug use in Mexico.

Top Five Highest States of Drug Consumption:

  1. Quintana Roo
  2. Jalisco
  3. Baja California
  4. Coahuila
  5. Aguascalientes

The survey consists of data from the age range of 12 to 65 per state. It concludes with the top three drugs (in no particular order of highest to lowest per state) to be marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines.

Finally, the earliest age of drug use, on average, begins at the age of 17 for men and 18 for women.

How is Mexico Moving Towards Decreasing Drug Use?

ENCODAT is an organization that desires to bring awareness to the people about the effects of drugs. Additionally, the organization wants to advocate for the effects of the body. It also aims to implement life-long strategies that will improve each community.

Forums are set in place to discuss specific detriments to the body and community. ENDOCAT wants to bring about and encourage public spaces that are safe for both children and adults. They also want to change the perception that drug use is merely a criminal act. They aim in drug use being perceived as a health problem that needs treatment and care.

Through ENCODAT and awareness of the War on Drugs, drug use in Mexico can continue to decrease. Mexico is projected to no longer be one of the leading countries of drug use in the world.

– Hannah Vaughn
Photo: Flickr

Drug Law Reform
Reflecting on over 50 years of the War on Drugs campaign from today’s perspective, it can be concluded that strict drug laws around the world have proven to be costly and ineffective at reducing drug use.

Most governments engage in militarized approaches that target small-scale offenders and farmers. This approach devastates local communities and deepens poverty, particularly in the global south. However, human rights-based approaches to drug law reform around the world are paving a new way forward.

UN Conventions are International Guidelines for Regulation

The U.N. has placed three conventions to regulate illicit drugs internationally. These conventions require federal governments to prosecute anybody engaging in the production, distribution, sale or purchase of illicit drugs.

However, the problem with the drug laws around the world are not the U.N. conventions. The problem is that the governments have interpreted these conventions literally and they tend to focus on the criminalization of the persons involved in drug trade rather than educating and treating the participants in the right way. 

Drug law reform can still occur in line with the U.N. conventions since the conventions do not specify that governments need to criminalize drug use itself but they leave room for governments to create treatment and rehabilitation programs for drug users.

Existing Drug Laws Deepen Poverty

The current international drug laws hurt the poor people the most, particularly those in the global south.

In these areas, drug cartel leaders and large-scale distributors generally have the resources and intel to evade law enforcement. So when the government cracks down on drugs, the poor are hit the hardest.

Prosecuting small-scale offenders only deepens poverty. Small-scale farmers grow drug crops because they have no realistic alternative. These farmers already belong to some of the most impoverished rural communities.

When their land is not fertile enough to sustain food crops, growing drug crops becomes the only option. When farmers are imprisoned, their income prospects disappear and their families and communities are only left in deeper and more desperate poverty. A vicious cycle forms.

The Balloon Effect Hurts Local Communities

Just like squeezing the bottom of a balloon pushes air to the top, experts use the term “balloon effect” to refer to the displacement of drug production.

Government enforcement does succeed in driving away drug production––but only from regulated areas. Traffickers will often move to more remote areas where they can’t be tracked. But it’s in these remote areas that the ecosystems are most fragile.

Local communities in these remote areas rely entirely on their untouched natural resources to survive. When drug producers take over their land, these local communities are driven into poverty. It’s estimated that the illicit drug trade is responsible for 10 percent of the rainforest destruction in Peru.

Bolivia Takes an Innovative Approach to Drug Law Reform

Bolivia’s indigenous population has been farming and chewing coca leaves for hundreds of years in order to increase focus and productivity. But, as it is well known, coca happens to be the main ingredient in cocaine.

So as part of its War on Drugs strategy, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) forcibly eradicated many of these indigenous farms, violently arresting farmers and deepening rural poverty.

In response to this actions, Bolivia legalized coca production in 2011. The government limits the amount of coca that farmers can grow (they are allowed to produce on approximately the size of one-third of a football field), and the legal sale of this coca allows farmers to make a sizable income. With their income, farming communities can now experiment with new food crops as well.

This cooperative, community-first approach has led to the voluntary removal of nearly 10,000 hectares of coca. Over the course of four years after the implementation of the policy, illegal coca production in Bolivia fell by 34 percent.

Western Africa’s Model for Drug Law Reform Helps Drug Users

Experts across Western Africa convened for the West Africa Commission on Drugs and crafted a “model drug law” for the region. The model was published in September 2018 and aims to guide the region’s policymakers. It focuses on removing existing barriers to health care for drug users.

Globally, the risk of contracting HIV is 23 times higher for people who inject drugs. And out of all of those who inject drugs, only 4 percent that lives with HIV have access to treatment. The criminalization of drug use prevents many from seeking treatment.

Olusegun Obasanjo, Chair of the West Africa Commission on Drugs, highlights the necessity for help over punishment: “Pushing them to the fringes of society or locking them up in ever increasing numbers will not solve the problem.”

The model for drug law reform focuses on decriminalizing drug use and increasing harm reduction services. Harm reduction services, such as clean needle-syringe programs are proven to decrease HIV infection rates.

The War on Drugs has turned rural farms and already impoverished areas into battlefields. Arresting and imprisoning small-scale offenders, such as users and rural farmers, only deepens global poverty.

However, as proven in various different situations, human-rights based approaches work. Governments and nonprofit organization around the world can use Bolivia and Western Africa as shining examples of how drug law reform can instead focus on the specific needs of different communities.

– Ivana Bozic

Photo: Flickr

The 7 Virtues and Afghanistan's Opium EpidemicIn the war-torn country of Afganistan, groups such as the Taliban enlist the help of opium farmers to finance their terrorist operations. Since opium crops are the most effective way to make a profit, farmers living in poverty have little to no reasons to resist contributing to the drug trade.

However, farmers in Afganistan can defeat terrorism with this unexpected strategy- selling oranges and roses. A perfume company called The 7 Virtues pays a generous amount for these ingredients which are used in the perfumes so that families can have a sustainable livelihood. Their philanthropy benefits the people of Afghanistan, the United States, and the world in general.

Opium Production in Afganistan

There is a huge demand for opium in Afghanistan, but the consequences of this illegal drug extend far beyond the country’s borders. Afghanistan farmers produce between 70 and 80 percent of the world’s supply of opium, and the drug industry spurring on their production is responsible for opium-related deaths throughout the world. In addition to funding terrorist operations, growing opium encourages other illegal behaviors and contributes to Afghanistan’s violent atmosphere.

It is no coincidence that some of the poorest farmers in the world are producing opium in Afghanistan. To survive, families must resort to a form of employment they might abstain from under less desperate circumstances. However, selling legal crops is not very profitable. Experts concerned about the economic development of Afghanistan have warned against stifling the opium trade because they don’t want more than three million farming families to lose their main source of income. Renting land is expensive for shareholders, so they need to sell crops in high demand. Compared to legal crops, opium brings in the most revenue.

The 7 Virtues

Barb Stegemann, the founder of The 7 Virtues, is determined to address violence and economic instability in Afghanistan with economic power. Many businesses in the fashion industry exploit cheap labor without giving the workers sustainable wages, so the company hopes to set a good example for others to follow. It lifts more than 1,000 families in Afganistan out of poverty by paying twice as much for essential oils to the farmers as they would get by selling opium. By selling legal crops for a generous price, this simultaneously limits financial support for terrorist groups. The company does business with other countries affected by violence and conflict such as Haiti, Rwanda and countries in the Middle East.

Legal crop production benefits more people than just farmers in the country. Reduced activity from terrorist groups is good for U.S. national security and saves people from opium addiction all over the world. Stegemann’s motto is: “Good for the world. Good for your skin.” Not only that perfumes made by The 7 Virtues are phthalate and paraben free, but they are also not tested on animals. Due to their rising popularity, the perfumes will be sold in Sephora outlets. Partnering with a mainstream beauty store helps maximize their visibility among consumers and makes the perfume easily accessible for supporters of Stegemann’s company.

Other Methods for Opium Reduction

The elected government in Afghanistan has introduced several other methods for interrupting the opium trade. They’re currently testing the effectiveness of aircraft that spray herbicides over poppy fields. This practice is announced prior to the harvest season that gives opium farmers a chance to make the decision of planting legal crops. The government is also confiscating the property of landlords who encourage shareholders to grow opium poppy plants. Future plans include research on types of crops grown in provinces controlled by terrorist groups. This will provide information about where they collect revenue and allow the government to focus their opium eradication efforts.

Barb Stegemann began a legacy to demonstrate the power of investment for alleviating poverty. Instead of fighting terrorism with more violence, she proves that Afghanistan’s problems can be solved with a bottle of fragrance.

Sabrina Dubbert
Photo: Flickr

War on DrugsAfter being elected President of the Philippines in June 2016, Rodrigo Duterte quickly declared a “war on drugs.” As a result, there have been more than 12,000 casualties to date with the majority of victims being the urban poor.

For two years, President Duterte’s “war on drugs” has caused numerous human rights violations by police, including extrajudicial killings. In some cases, the war has led Philippine National Police (PNP) to target children and impoverished populations, hindering poverty reduction.

How the “War on Drugs” Began

During his presidential campaign, President Duterte classified drug dealing and addiction as barriers preventing economic and social advancements for the country. Following his presidential election win, Duterte said, “go ahead and kill” drug addicts, which has been taken literally by the public. Suspected drug dealers and addicts became victim to vigilante attacks and police began conducting large-scale raids in Manila, Philippines.

Unfortunately, substance abuse is not uncommon in the Philippines. Marjoree Razal, a former resident of Manila, Philippines told The Borgen Project: “There are a lot of drug addicts and some children will begin using drugs at a very young age.” In fact, there are about 1.8 million drug users in the Philippines, and “shabu,” a form of methamphetamine, has been the most common drug of choice. According to a 2012 United Nations report, The Philippines had the highest rate of methamphetamine abuse in East Asia.

The “War on Drugs” Has Resulted in Human Rights Violations

According to data gathered by The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), between July 2016 and September 2017, the police had already caused the deaths of 3,906 alleged drug users and dealers. Thousands more have been killed by masked gunmen who were disguised police officers or hitmen working with police.

Razal said, “These killings did not become common until President Duterte took office. Most of the recent killings have been ordered by him.” An investigation conducted by The Human Rights Watch (HRW) uncovered that PNP has been continuously conducting extrajudicial killings of potential drug suspects and falsely declaring self-defense. Police are also guilty of planting weapons, ammunition and drug packaging on victims’ bodies to incriminate them of drug activity.

According to Peter Bouckaert of HRW: “The way the targeting takes place is that each community has to compile a list of drug users that is known as the “watch list.” From those lists, people are targeted for either police operations or they’re simply killed by unidentified gunmen.”

Since most of the extrajudicial killings have been done in Manila, Philippines, the urban poor population is being directly impacted as a result. Thousands of children have become orphans or are now living in single-parent households because of Duterte’s crackdown on drugs. Razal said, “It is not unusual for the government to mistreat the poor since the country thrives on money and power.”

The Effects of The War On Drugs

Rhoda, a 29-year-old widow, became a single parent after her husband was killed by police in the drug war. Rhoda now supports seven children by herself, but health problems prevented her from working last year. Since then, she has found a job selling beauty products and earns 4,000 pesos per month ($212).

Many children under age 18 have also died in the drug war since June 2016 because they were either with someone who was being targeted or, it has been suggested, were actual targets themselves. According to the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center, at least 54 children have been killed by PNP or masked gunmen since July 2016.

In response to the killings of children, Duterte said there would be an investigation to hold the officers accountable; however, no investigation was ever launched, and the officers in question are still on active duty. In fact, to date, nobody has been prosecuted for any of the extrajudicial killings.

Additionally, the Philippine judicial system is considered to be corrupt and works very slowly. Since drug dealers and addicts are a stigmatized group, it is difficult for them to receive any political support even when there is no evidence that proves they took part in drug activity. President Duterte claims “The war against illegal drugs is far from over” and vows it will continue until 2022 despite the opposition.

Improvements

The Catholic church has formed a campaign against violence in efforts to help and provide shelter for victims. The St. Francis of Assisi and Santa Quiteria Parish in Caloocan, Philippines created a drug rehabilitation program as a nonviolent approach to combat the country’s illegal drug problem.

Rev. George Alfonso, a priest of the parish said: “We are not denying that drugs are a problem in our society. But instead of acting about the war against them, we decided to do something to help the person.” The church believes that addiction is a result of a social issue, not just an issue of crime.

Furthermore, during the June session of the Human Rights Council, 33 states are calling for the end of extrajudicial killings along with an investigation into those behind the acts. Several “unofficial” investigations have been started to look into the extent of the human rights violations that have occurred so far.

Since President Duterte’s removal of PNP from anti-drug operations, extrajudicial killings have declined, but continue to occur. Instead, the government needs to adopt a policy for addressing drug-related issues that is non-violent and improves public health in order to limit the spread of diseases from certain kinds of drug use such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis.

By adopting harm-reduction measures, like education and access to rehabilitation, the amount of violence in poverty-stricken areas will begin to decrease and potentially bring about improved relations between the government and its people.

– Diane Adame
Photo: Flickr