Informal Drug Policy Dialogue 2013, Warsaw
The tenth meeting of the Informal Drug Policy Dialogue series, organised by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and Association Diogenis, took place in Warsaw, Poland, gathering over 35 NGO representatives, academics, policy makers and practitioners.
The Dialogue comprised five major sessions on drug policy.
During the first session, participants discussed the current state of drug policy in Poland. Recently, drug consumption patterns have shifted in Poland, with decreased levels of problematic heroin use and a rise in use prevalence of cannabis and new psychoactive substances. Limited harm reduction and drug dependence treatment services are currently available for people who use drugs. At the same time Polish drug policy retains severe punishments towards all people involved in the drug trade, including people who use drugs. In 2011, the Criminal Code was revised to allow for diversion mechanisms to be established in order to divert people who use drugs away from prison and into treatment. Although many issues remain regarding Polish drug policy, this reform is a positive development in the country.
The second session focused on the new European Union (EU) Drug Strategy for 2013-2020 and its Action Plan for 2013-2016. In the discussions, the Strategy was considered as an opportunity for EU member states to adopt collective actions in the field of drug policy. Although the new Strategy retains some gaps and weaknesses, the document includes many positive elements, such as the promotion of a balanced, evidenced, human rights-based and harm reduction oriented approach towards drugs. The Action Plan is currently being negotiated by member states. The Strategy and Action Plan can constitute important documents in the lead up to the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs. In the face of regional and global calls for drug policy reform, it is fundamental that the EU supports this new dynamic. The model for civil society involvement developed by the EU with the Civil Society Forum can also be useful to promote NGO participation at the UNGASS debates.
Thirdly, participants discussed cannabis policy reform movements worldwide, with a special focus on the legal regulation of cannabis markets in US states Colorado and Washington and the Uruguayan bill on cannabis policy. Discussions also covered cannabis policy and possibilities for reform in Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Poland. Participants discussed the implications of cannabis policy reform on the global drug control system, how these reforms can be justified by governments within the UN drug control conventions, and what role the International Narcotic Control Board has taken on as the ‘guardian’ of the treaties.
In the following session, participants shared their experience and expertise on different models of decriminalisation, with a specific focus on Poland, Italy and the Czech Republic. The session was also an opportunity to present attempts from the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), TNI and Release at mapping out the different models of decriminalisation that have been established across the world. Discussions revolved around how effective these models have been in practice, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of decriminalisation. The main conclusions were that, when well implemented, decriminalisation was a positive reform initiative to reduce stigma and incarceration and increase access to healthcare services. However, criticisms were also raised on the fact that decriminalisation was only a ‘half-way’ solution, with people who use drugs remaining in close contact with the illicit drug market, and that this policy could lead to inconsistenciesin national level drug policy, with a medicalisation of drug use, and increased penalties for low level dealing, among other issues.
The final session of theDialogue provided updates on the 56th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), which was held from 11th to 15th March 2013 in Vienna, Austria. Although non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have little space in the formal deliberations of the CND, participants discussed various tools and methods that NGOs can effectively use to influence the debates and resolutions. As such, this session was an attempt to strategise around the resolutions that would be presented at this year’s CND, the main NGO events and NGO coordination mechanisms in place in Vienna, and the major themes on the agenda of the meeting.