Category: Blog Post
Posted: November 18 2015
Author: Nazlee Maghsoudi

The Role & Responsibility of Scientists in Drug Policy Reform

Five years ago, the ICSDP was created as a response to scientific misinformation in the public discourse around drug policy. Today, the need for scientists to actively engage in the drug policy dialogue is greater than ever before.

As an increasing number of jurisdictions experiment with approaches other than conventional, enforcement-based drug policies, members of the public, policymakers, and the media are asking a lot of questions about how the shift in policies impacts drug-related harms. In a perfect world, the answers to these questions would be evidence-based. Yet, in the absence of engagement from the scientific community, it is all too common for evidence to be misinterpreted, overstated, or simply ignored when discussing matters of drug policy. Given that policy decisions are influenced by public opinion and media reports, there is a very real risk that mischaracterization of scientific evidence can lead to misinformed, and potentially harmful, drug policies.

At the ICSDP, we believe research into the effectiveness of drug policies is crucial, but equally important is working to incorporate research findings into policymaking. This perspective has significant implications for the role of scientists. Traditionally, scientists are expected to identify the truth, but to leave the implementation of their findings to others. We must ask whether confining the work of scientists to the laboratory makes any sense whatsoever. Those that discover the facts are certainly well suited to be a part of the subsequent policymaking dialogue.

Scientists are not only well positioned to inform the design of drug policies, but according to Buddhini Samarasinghe, in fact “have a moral obligation to engage with the public about their findings; to advise and speak out on policy, and to critique its consequent implementation.” We know that without a sustained commitment to implementing their research findings, the impact of a scientist’s research may very well be squandered. Scientists have a responsibility to take their research out of their laboratories, and employ their findings in a push for evidence-based drug policies. It is only then that the advances made in research can become advances in society.

With the upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016, and the accelerating rate of cannabis policy reform around the globe, there is a heightened interest in evidence-based drug policy. The active engagement of the scientific community is of vital importance to ensuring that research is correctly represented and incorporated into policymaking.