Addressing illicit drug-related harm does matter – for children and youth, for people who need a second chance, for families, communities, for workplaces and companies, for public health and social fabric, for sustainable development and for society’s prosperity and well-being at large.

Therefore, we in Movendi International work hand in hand with decision-makers and opinion leaders around the world.

This page provides a legislator’s tool box to advice on and help facilitate high-impact, cost-effective and evidence-based policy-making to prevent and reduce harm caused by illicit drugs.

Policy-Making Context

UN Human Rights Conventions form the policy-making context for illicit drug policy formulation.

Protecting children is a primary, universal and obligatory concern.

The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is hard law, like the Narcotics Conventions from 1961, 1971, and 1988. But only the CRC is core human rights law.

It is the first international instrument to explicitly recognize children as social actors and active holders of their own rights. Notably, the purpose of the CRC is not to affirm that children have the same rights as adults, but to legislate on rights for children on basis of their special needs for protection.

Protection against illicit drugs is unquestionably a Human Rights issue. Protecting children from illicit use/ production/ trafficking of drugs is a universal obligation for governments.

Promoting the Best Interest of Children is the overarching principle. Art. 3, in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) stipulates:

In all action concerning children whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration.

Art. 3, CRC is a portal paragraph: the best interest principle shall be considered across the board in decision-making. It means that whenever a society is deciding on legislation, or other policy the Best Interest of the child shall be a primary consideration.

The best interest of the child may not prevail in all situations but it requires strong arguments to the contrary to topple its “primary“ status; freedom of speech or information is a strong and legitimate civic interest, and might prevail in most situations unless there is a strong child interest at hand, such as child pornography. An assumed right to take illegal drugs as a matter of self-expression or privacy would by comparison have almost zero civic interest, and would lose in a contest with any child rights provision.

Protecting children from illicit drugs: Article 33, in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) stipulates further:

Governments shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, and educational measures to protect children from the [use of illicit drugs] as defined in relevant international treaties, and to prevent the use of children in the illicit production and trafficking of such substances.

In short Art. 33, CRC is calling for comprehensive measures to protect children from use, production, and/ or trafficking. It refers back to existing UN instruments on illicit drugs.
And it means that more than one measure is foreseen and a comprehensive multi-sectorial effort is called for.

5 Basic Principles

We follow five basic principles in our advocacy for narcotic drugs policy making. Those are essential to get to the point of comprehensive and sustainable solutions:

  1. Narcotic drugs are illegal for good reason and they should remain illegal.
  2. The objective is to prevent and reduce the use of illicit drugs by prevention and tackling demand and supply.
  3. The level of negative social, economic and health consequences, including loss of productivity, disease and accidents, as well as political and security threats correspond to the level of illicit drug use in any given society.
  4. Drug addiction is neither only a health problem nor is it exclusively a criminal justice problem.
  5. Every human being addicted to illicit drugs is entitled to a dignified life. Every illicit drug addict should be treated with respect by society and the health care system. Treatment and rehabilitation measures should always be based on law and should always be in accordance with human dignity.

5 Impactful Solutions

We advocate for five components of a comprehensive set of solutions to achieve a drug-free world.

Legislative/ political aspect

Law enforcement plays an integral role in illicit drug use prevention by protecting public safety, reducing the availability of illicit drugs and discouraging illicit drug use in the population. The harms caused by use of illicit drugs are public health, social justice, criminal justice and economic issues all at once. Therefore illicit drugs harm should be politically addressed in a comprehensive way, in line with the UN Conventions.

The use of imprisonment for minor illicit drug-related offenses should be reduced and proportionate to the offense.It is crucial to find effective and dignified alternatives to incarceration. Alternative sanctions that foster abstinence and a life free from illicit drugs should obtain political priority.

Political leadership should ensure that the criminal justice system is a powerful engine of rehabilitation and social re-integration, instead of being an obstacle to rehabilitation and social re-integration. Alternative sanctions should empower people to become drug-free, crime-free and active members of society.

Present legal system

The present system of worldwide illicit drug control is based on three international conventions:

  • The 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the 1972 Protocol,
  • The 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and
  • The 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

As of June 2014, 189 states were Parties to these UN Conventions.

Article 33 in the Convention on the Rights of the Child states the obligation for states “to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances”.

Prevention is about the healthy and safe development of children and building a good society

The primary objective of Movendi International’s illicit drug prevention is to help people, particularly but not exclusively children and young people, to avoid the use of illicit drugs, or, if they have started already, to pave ways into rehabilitation, social re-integration and a life free from illicit drugs.

The general aim of Movendi International’s illicit drug prevention, however, is much broader: it is the healthy and safe development of children and youth to live up to their full potential and to be able to become active and contributing members of their community and society. Effective drug prevention contributes significantly to the positive engagement of children, youth and adults with their families, schools, workplace and community.

While prevention measures undertaken by civil society, social services and law enforcement agencies do cost taxpayer money and their effects are sometimes difficult to “prove” in the short-term, focusing prevention on children and young people saves costs in the long-term. For example, in the case of alcohol the likelihood of developing an addiction is fourfold when a person starts using it before the age of 15.

Movendi International considers it a basic Human Right that children and young people grow up free from alcohol and other drugs and thus achieve their greatest potential. Therefore Movendi International advocates for more prevention-focused policy, which promotes the creation of more alcohol and other drug free environments for young people.
This means that the use of illicit drugs should not merely be considered from a legal perspective, but as well in light of public health and wellbeing.

Treatment and rehabilitation

Treatment and rehabilitation offer the best way for human beings who are affected by illicit drug-related problems to minimize their risk of further consequences and give them a fair chance at returning to a dignified life within society.

Community-based rehabilitation and fellowships provide important opportunities for mutual help. However, treatment systems must provide a wide range of effective services to assist people who use illicit drugs in their efforts to recover.

Low threshold services are needed to start interventions. Treatment and rehabilitation services should be easily available to illicit drug users and they should empower people to become drug-free, crime-free and active members of society.

International cooperation – the role of civil society

Tackling the world’s illicit drug problem requires strong international collaboration. The current international illicit drug control treaties establish an international framework to combat illicit drug-related harm by reducing both supply and demand.

However, more can be done to reduce any unintended consequences of the current regulatory regime and to ensure access to vital medical treatment and medications.

Movendi International also believes that further international collaboration is needed to address the problems arising from the criminal illicit drug markets, e.g. combating money laundering, corruption and in- ternational organized crime.

4 Types Of Harm

Our advocacy seeks to address the harm caused by illicit drugs in the most comprehensive way. For that reason, we tackle all four types of harm that illicit drug use causes.

Illicit drugs cause harm to public health and individual well being. Illicit drug use causes problems to the users themselves. And it causes harm to the family, friends, and colleagues around the users as well as to society at large – so called social harm. Illicit drugs cause harm to economic sustainability and prosperity. Illicit drugs are a Human Rights issue. They are especially a Child Rights, Women’s Rights and Indigenous People’s rights issue.

Public Health Harm

Illicit drugs cause harm to public health and individual well being

Illicit drugs harm humans physically and psychologically, leading to dependence, organ diseases, depression and other mental disorders.

Even the most common illicit drug, cannabis, can carry a detrimental effect on the development of the brain, especially when used during adolescence.

Social Harm

Illicit drugs cause tremendous social harm

Illicit drug use causes problems to the users themselves. And it causes harm to the family, friends, and colleagues around the users as well as to society at large.

The dimension of harms to others caused by illicit drug use demands to consider that health and social harm overlap and often heighten one another.
Illicit drugs can change a person’s character and interfere with their ability to be an active member in the community and in society. Continuous use of illicit drugs hinders the individual’s ability to partake in family life, build and maintain friendships, fulfil work obligations and participate in the social fabric of society. In the long run, this leads to social isolation.

While the user often has to cope with major personal difficulties, these personal struggles also affect family, friends, colleagues and employers, as well as the wider community, who depend on the individual to fulfil their social and legal obligations as members of the community.

Illicit drugs exacerbate and perpetuate poverty, fuelling criminality, corruption and violence and thus draining communities’ resilience and the precious resources of society at large.

Social harm caused by illicit drugs consists thus of a collective dimension and an individual one, a short-term dimension and a long-term one. All four dimensions interplay and cause the magnitude of illicit drugs’ social harm.

Economic Harm

Illicit drugs cause harm to economic sustainability and prosperity

The social harm caused by illicit drugs, their harm to the individual’s health and well being, and to public and global health as well as development, all put a heavy burden on the economy of any society.

Illicit drugs drain the financial resources of the society as well as the individual. This includes the health of the individual user as well as those who are nearby. Furthermore, property damage, crime, violence and absenteeism at work causing productivity losses, are all aspects of harm to economic sustainability and prosperity.

Considering detrimental impacts of illicit drugs such as low quality of life, depression or suffering, it is a reason to intensify prevention and early care in order to reduce the economic costs.

Human Rights Harm

Illicit drugs are a Human Rights issue.

They are especially a Child Rights, Women’s Rights and Indigenous People’s rights issue.

Illicit drugs expose children to unhealthy environments, neglect and abuse, higher risks for early onset of use of alcohol and other drugs and violate their fundamental right to grow up safely and free from alcohol and other drugs.

Illicit drugs fuel terrorism, organised crime, violence and human trafficking. The production of illicit drugs often goes hand-in-hand with conflicts and civil wars. Illicit drugs also jeopardize the sustainability of communities and entire societies.

Policy Model

Drug use in Europe has been expanding over the past three decades. More people experiment with illicit drugs and more people become regular users, with all the problems this entails for already strained national health systems.

There are thus suggestions, at the European level, that drug policies have failed to contain a widespread problem.

Sweden is a notable exception.

  • Drug use levels among students are lower than in the early 1970s.
  • Life-time prevalence and regular illicit drug use among students are considerably lower than in the rest of Europe.
  • Life-time prevalence and regular illicit drug use among the general population are considerably lower than in the rest of Europe.
  • Drug abuse is ever decreasing in Sweden contrary to the European trend.

Towards a drug-free society: Cornerstones of Sweden’s successful illicit drug policy

The Swedish vision

Swedish illicit drug control policy is guided by the vision and the ultimate goal of achieving a drug-free society and the unequivocal re-jection of illicit drugs, their trafficking and abuse.

Swedish drug control policy is guided by solidarity with disadvantaged and vulnerable members of society.

People are entitled to a life of dignity and a society, which safe-guards health, prosperity, security and safety of the individual, family and community. Therefore the vision is that of a society free from illicit drugs.

Overriding task

The overriding task of Swedish drug policy is to prevent abuse.

Preventive measures shall strengthen the determination and ability of the individual to refrain from illicit drugs.

The Swedish context

In Sweden, society relies on four contextual factors for successful illicit drug policy:

  • Distribution of prosperity:

Income inequalities, which often go hand-in-hand with criminal activities including illicit drug trafficking, are low.

  • Health literacy:

International surveys show that the Swedish population is particularly health-conscious, therefore less prone to large-scale illicit drug use and inclined to lifestyle choices that promote health and well-being.

  • Employment rates:

Unemployment is below the European average. This reduces the risks of substance abuse.

  • Political commitment and political will:

There is widespread consensus across political parties, civil society, labour unions and the business sector on Sweden’s political commitment to a society free from illicit drugs.

Political leaders continuously express that political will to prevent and reduce harm caused by illicit drugs remains very strong from both the Parliament and the Government.

Some Cornerstones

The Swedish ANDT (Alcohol, Narcotics, Doping, Tobacco) Strategy, covering the years 2011 to 2015, was adopted by the Swedish Parliament in 2011. It stipulates five cornerstones:

  • Restriction, not repression:

The Swedish approach to illicit drug policy has been restrictive but not repressive. The prison population rate (prisoners per 100.000 inhabitants) is 74, which is well below the median rate for western and southern Europe – which lies at 95.

The rate for The Netherlands is 100, a big discrepancy compared to Sweden, showing the effectiveness of the restriction not repression approach.

Children, young people and parents are particularly prioritised target groups. The Government allocated almost SEK 260 million a year for 2008, 2009 and 2010 for work against alcohol and other drugs.

  • The best interest of the child

Protecting children against the harmful effects of alcohol, narcotic drugs, doping and tobacco, complex the Swedish government to the following targets:

  1. Fewer children born with harmful or disabling conditions caused by exposure to alcohol, illicit drugs, doping substances or tobacco.
  2. Appropriate support for children in families where abuse, mental illness or mental disability is present.
  3. Better knowledge of alcohol and tobacco marketing practices via digital media, and of the effect of digital marketing on consumption.
  4. Gradually reducing the number of children and young people who initiate the use of tobacco, illicit drugs or doping substances or begin drinking alcohol early.
  5. Reduced initiation of illicit drugs and doping abuse.
  6. Development of methods for deterring children and young people from starting to use tobacco products.
  7. Wider use of available, effective means of postponing alcohol debuts and reducing alcohol consumption.
  8. Emphasis on health promotion in schools.
  9. Greater participation by parents, non-governmental organisations and the business community in preventive work.

Up to 20% (ca. 400.000) of all children grow up in families with at least one parent with substance use problems

Interventions are offered to children living in families where one or both parents are addicted to either alcohol or narcotics in Swedish municipalities in different settings, often in cooperation with NGOs.

  • Approx. 65% of the municipalities offer some group-based activities for these children.
  • About 80% of municipalities reported interventions for families with addicted parents.
  • 65% reported interventions for families where violence occurs.
  • 55% reported interventions for families with parents with mental disorders .

A third cornerstone is the work with young people’s attitudes.

  • Young Swedes’ attitudes

The Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (CAN) annually conducts national studies of the alcohol and drug habits of school children. The approach in Sweden today is that it is vital and necessary to convince every generation and keep the momentum going.

  1. National, representative surveys among school pupils of 9th grade are conducted annually since 1971 – one of the longest on-going surveys in the world.
  2. 2013 findings: historic lows in alcohol and tobacco use and stable level of illicit drug use

A fourth cornerstone is the systematic work with family support.

  • Family support

Increasing numbers of municipalities across Sweden report activities for parents in drug prevention work.

  1. In 2009: The Swedish government set up a national strategy for developing parental support. The aim of the strategy is to encourage local collaboration on support and assistance to parents in their parenting.
  2. Community Parent Education (COPE) is one of several prevention methods focused on parents, and the method was applied in about a third of the municipalities in 2011.

What civil society does

Civil society contribution to prevention and reduction of harm caused by narcotic drugs is an essential factor in the Swedish model. The IOGT-NTO movement in Sweden is one of the leading civil society actors to help prevent substance use in children and youth and to contribute to the work for prevention and reduction of harm caused by alcohol and other drugs.

Junis, our Swedish Member Organization working for child rights through alcohol prevention:

  • Annual report mapping country-wide munici- pal support for children from families at risk:
  • 91% of respondants report support activities for children from at-risk families
  • 9% of municipalities do not offer any sup- port at all
  • only 1.9% of children are reached by the support they need and have a right to


  • Running of treatment center (Dagöholm) for treatment and rehabilitation
  • Several Social Enterprises for former addicts to foster rehabilitation and reintegration
  • Mutual help groups across the country
  • Annual White Christmas (“Vit Jul”) campaign with the entire IOGT-NTO movement

NSF, the IOGT-NTO movement’s scout organization:

  • Year-round, country-wide social inclusion activities for children and youth at risk
  • Special non-formal education material: Safe Meetings

UNF, the Swedish Youth Temperance Association:

  • Year-round, country-wide social inclusion activities for children and youth at risk
  • Mutual help groups for youth
  • A Better Leisure Life – campaign for more drug free environments for youth

Prevention – A Policy Cornerstone

Prevention – Policy cornerstone for child-centerer approach

Movendi International and our 122 Member Organisations stand for a Child Rights-centered approach to prevention of illicit drug-related harm.

The primacy and universality of children’s Best Interest means that general illicit drug policy-making shall be child centered – as opposed to adult-centered or user-centered.

Therefore we emphasise the importance of drug free environments to protect children and advocate passionately for the creation of many more drug free environments for children and young people.

The wording of CRC Art. 3 and Art. 33 stipulates a scope of protection that also covers situations where the illicit drug user is not the child, but e.g. a parent. Governments should make solid efforts to prevent that such situations emerge. Governments must create enabling environments for protecting children from illicitly using drugs.

For this to happen the most conducive policy goal is to ensure a drug free society.

Special protection levels stipulated by the CRC endow the protection of children from illicit drugs with a high value in itself.

Art. 33 is one of the special protection articles in the CRC. This means that it represents a value that shall be upheld. The child shall be protected from illicit drugs. This can be compared to the right not to be subjected to discrimination. Policy-making that is not embracing this value is not consistent with the CRC.

Art. 3, CRC and its Best Interest Principle have far reaching implications. They go beyond the child-only realm.

The best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration in all policy making that affects children, even in areas which at first might seem to have nothing to do with children.

In the field of illicit drugs policy-making the question “how does this affect children’s right to protection from illicit drugs” shall be mainstreamed. It shall be the starting point for all drug related discussions to consider: ”Is this the best way to ensure that children are protected against illicit use/ production/ trafficking of drugs? If the answer is no the policy needs to be re-thought.

Prevention as the first priority, not harm reduction

UNICEF’s Child Protection Strategy 2009 sets prevention as the first priority for child protection.

Society shall make it difficult to use illicit drugs, and work to ensure an attitude of non-acceptance of illicit drug use. A first priority of “health” or “harm reduction” does not meet the requirements for protection as set out in Art. 33.

The starting point in a child-centered policy approach must be prevention.

Scientific Arguments

The actors within the illicit drug market affect society negatively in complex ways. The Marijuana industry, Big Marijuana, is a special case because their substance is legal in a few places, and remains illegal in vast parts of the world. Big Marijuana takes tactics out of the playbook of Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol and is pushing aggressively for legalization.

One of their tactics is to promote and perpetuate myths about the effects of marijuana, distort scientific evidence, buy their own “science” and aggressively use the media to drown out independent evidence and a science-based approach.

We have exposed 25 of their most common claims to independent evidence, and a provide an overview of how to bust Big Marijuana myths.