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Drug trade harms economic growth, UN-linked narcotics panel finds

Drug trade harms economic growth, UN-linked narcotics panel finds

An independent panel overseeing United Nations drug treaties warned today that the narcotics trade harms long-term economic growth in the developing world and also strongly cautioned against any moves to legalize illicit drugs.

In its annual report released in Vienna, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says it has for the first time examined the impact of illicit drug cultivation, trade and abuse on overall economic development, dispelling what it calls “the myth that drug trafficking might be a route to growth and prosperity.”

The Board calls on the international community to offer assistance to drug control efforts in countries in which illicit drugs thrive and which do not have sufficient resources to combat the problem.

“The review in the present report shows that illicit drug production actually prevents long-term economic growth,” Board President Philip Emafo said. “Huge proceeds from illicit drugs lead to conspicuous consumption, promote inflation, destroy production capacity and result in negative economic growth. Drug control by governments is therefore not only in the interest of health and security but also in the interest of building a viable and sustainable economy.”

The report notes that only 1 per cent of the money ultimately spent by drug abusers is earned as farm income in developing countries while the remaining 99 per cent is earned at various other points along the drug trafficking chain, with half to two-thirds of the profits accruing in developed countries where most illicit drugs are used.

Heroin and cocaine account for most of the problems worldwide, the INCB says, but the legal market for opiates for pain relief like morphine risks getting out of control with supply currently exceeding demand, and synthetic drugs like Ecstasy could become the main illicit drugs of the future. The INCB has launched a major initiative to stop chemicals needed for synthetic drugs form reaching clandestine laboratories.

The INCB also warns against moves to legalize drugs, particularly cannabis. “Supporters of such legalization pursue their goals through aggressive, well-funded campaigns and with missionary zeal,” Mr. Emafo said. “Their arguments, however, do not reflect the truth. Cannabis is not a harmless drug, as advocates of its legalization tend to portray. Cannabis use affects the functioning of the brain. Its illicit use is also associated with heart attacks in some young people and can cause lung disease and cancer.”

The INCB was established in 1968 as the independent and quasi-judicial control organ for implementation of UN drug conventions. Its 13 members, who serve in their personal capacity, are elected by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and their work is financed by the UN. Three members are elected from a list of candidates nominated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and 10 from a list nominated by Governments.