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Can Blockchain Help Drive Drug Policy Reform?

In the evolving landscape of disruptive technology, one innovation has emerged as an unexpected but promising tool for social justice: blockchain. Beyond its association with cryptocurrencies, blockchain has been behind numerous use cases in health, education, and democratic governance. From enhancing voting processes to establishing digital identities for undocumented populations, governments, civil society, and the private sector have been exploring its potential for public good.

However, perhaps the most significant yet often overlooked value of this technology lies in its ability to shift the locus of power. And this is what makes it a promising tool in dismantling the systems of oppression and inequality.


Is there a connection between Blockchain, Web3 and drug policy reform?

Drug policy reform requires a massive shift away from Global North dominated, punitive approaches to drugs, and a rebalancing of power so that the groups harmed by oppressive drug control can lead in envisioning an equitable, reparative approach forward. To create systemic change in drug policy, we must confront the entrenched roots of racism and colonialism that define current approaches to global drug control. And in doing so, we need to use tools that are designed from the core to enable the shift of power, advancing inclusion and participation.


How can blockchain help advance inclusion, participation and social justice?

Widespread systemic inequalities, racism, and authoritarianism limit the realisation of rights and opportunities for many marginalised communities, from access to basic services to financial inclusion and freedom of speech. At the same time, the development assistance response, rooted in political interests and colonial approaches to aid, creates an additional layer of negative impacts, from capture of resources by the North, to enabling of punitive approaches to drug control. While technology is not the final solution to systemic challenges, tools like blockchain can disrupt unfair power structures and create a more equitable and representative system.

How can blockchain do it? At its core, blockchain is a ledger that records transactions. A transaction can represent an exchange of any value that can be digitally documented, from financial transactions to any transfer of data, information, IP or ownership rights, or cryptocurrencies. What makes it so unique is that the transactions must be verified by a network of computers (so there is distribution of power unlike in the case of a bank or a government running the ledger). These transactions are visible to all participants in the network, but pseudonymous, meaning they are linked to unchangeable cryptographic addresses rather than real-world identities. This makes blockchain a guarantor against censorship, state or private capture, corruption, or manipulation by third parties.

This is particularly relevant for human rights work and financial monitoring and accountability: it is a common tool in, for example, documentation of human rights violations, humanitarian aid distribution, crowdfunding efforts, land registration, and public expenditure monitoring. In times of crisis and autocracy, blockchain-based platforms have enabled human rights activists with the tools to resist financial oppression and mobilize for advocacy, as well as ensure state accountability through decentralised evidence management.

In Latin America, farming communities have gained access to funding through EthicHub’s decentralised lending platforms. Blockchain’s transparent ledger builds trust between lenders and borrowers eliminating the need for traditional banking intermediaries and opens up opportunities for unbanked communities, as well as those who lack formal identification or credit history to access capital.


The “Internet of Value” – where the shift of power occurs

So, if blockchain is a tool to ensure that data and transactions are secure, transparent and not manipulated by any power structures, how can it be leveraged to create more equitable and inclusive systems where communities drive change? That’s where Web3 comes into play.

Web3 is a more participatory, user-governed internet enabled by decentralized protocols, platforms, and apps that are powered by blockchain technology. Unlike in the current web (Web2), where big Tech companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook control and extract value from our data, in Web3 users retain ownership over their own data and content, allowing them to control the value generated from it.

This shift in values makes Web3 a new cultural, social, political, and economic movement that promotes transparency, decentralisation, community participation, ownership, and empowerment. Web3 extends the potential of blockchain by providing an ecosystem where communities can collaboratively create and exchange value; this is done through newly enabled  forms of collaboration, such as decentralised autonomous organizations (DAOs) and token economies. DAOs enable collective decision-making and resource allocation without a centralised authority. Tokenised participation models incentivise and reward participants for their contributions or participation within a community through the distribution of digital tokens (which can represent ownership, access, or voting rights, or be exchanged or redeemed within the ecosystem).

Giveth, a decentralised crowdfunding platform, builds on this transformative potential of Web3 to reshape the landscape of philanthropy and giving. By integrating blockchain technology, Giveth helps crowdfunding campaigns with added transparency in how funds are allocated. More than just a fundraising tool, Giveth is building a community of givers and volunteers through token-based rewards, incentivising active participation and enabling community-driven governance. This inclusive model shifts the power dynamics, giving every participant a stake in the growth and sustainability of a collective vision for social change.

Some areas in which blockchain can accelerate social impact include:

  1. Resisting authoritarianism – using decentralised communication platforms to resist censorship and protect human rights activists, as well as resisting financial oppression when governments crackdown on activists’ bank accounts. Human Rights Foundation is leading the work on supporting the development of the secure blockchain infrastructure through the Bitcoin Development Fund to ensure that human rights advocates are financially protected.
  2. Supporting community-led decision-making and ensuring communities affected by drug policies to have a greater say in shaping alternative approaches. This includes creating opportunities for communities to shape knowledge-systems, with rewards and incentives for community participation.
  3. Democratising funding – Blockchain’s decentralisation and transparency can open access to new crowdfunding opportunities driven by public goals. NoImpunity’s model is an example of how blockchain can facilitate access to justice for underserved communities by connecting litigants to investment funding for strategic litigation.


What’s next for Blockchain and drug policy reform?

Blockchain, like any other technological innovation, is just a tool and not a solution to resolving these complex issues. It’s essential to recognise that technology can replicate existing power dynamics if not guided by principles of social justice. As such, it is essential to ensure that the development of this and other technologies are grounded in values of social justice and reach those who need it most.

Harm Reduction International and Decoland are exploring opportunities for blockchain to advance drug policy reform – focusing on blockchain tools to shift traditional power dynamics.

In the coming months, Harm Reduction International and Decoland will be collaborating with partners in social justice, Web3, and the drug policy sector to open up conversations on how we can leverage this technology in our work. We want to contribute to a world where there is value in transparency, participation, and inclusion, rather than capture and control.


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