The international drug control regime is facing the most profound challenge of its existence. Member states have for some time been experimenting with new responses to the ‘world drug problem’; however, the advent of legally regulated cannabis markets has resulted in a ratcheting up of these challenges to expose the system to new levels of strain. With the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem fast approaching, how will the international community make use of the opportunity it provides for a free and open debate?
The war on drugs is edging towards a truce. Half of Americans want to lift the ban on cannabis. America’s change of heart has led many to wonder if the UN conventions might be reformed to legalise some drugs and treat the use of others as a problem requiring health measures, not criminal or military ones. But as America has drawn back from prohibition, new drug warriors are stepping up to defend it. Russia is foremost among them. “The Russians have taken over the hard-line role that the US used to play,” says Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute.
On 19th to 21st April 2016, there will be a United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) held in New York, dedicated to the issue of drug policy. The General Assembly is the highest policy making and representative organ of the United Nations (UN), and its infrequent Special Sessions focus on pertinent topics at the request of member states. The UNGASS on drugs has the potential to be a ground-breaking, open debate about the international drug control system – but there is much work to be done to ensure that it fulfils that potential.
The UN's top narcotics official said on Wednesday that recent votes by US states to legalize marijuana have put America in deeper violation of the international conventions that guide drug policy around the world. Earlier this month, voters in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC legalized the recreational use and sale of marijuana. Similar ballot initiatives have already passed and taken effect in Colorado and Washington.
If you actually read the treaties, while they do set firm limitations on the legal, "non-medical" or "non-scientific" sale of schedule drugs — limits that Uruguay, Colorado and Washington ignored when legalizing cannabis — they don’t otherwise obligate countries to penalize drug use. Even the 1988 convention, the harshest of the three, which instructs countries to criminalize use, still provides an out for states, allowing such laws only as they are "subject to its constitutional principles and the basic concepts of its legal system." This loophole has been used by the Dutch to argue legally for their coffee shops.
In March 2014, country delegations will gather at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) to review progress and challenges in international drug control since the agreement of a Political Declaration on drugs in 2009. Given that the Political Declaration aims to “eliminate or reduce significantly” the use, supply and demand of controlled drugs by 2019, this meeting represents an important opportunity for honest evaluation and an acknowledgement that these targets are not being achieved. With a United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs just two years away, this is an important time for international drug control policy.
Ahead of the High-Level Segment on the world drug problem to take place on 13th and 14th January 2014, the UNODC Executive Director, Yuri Fedotov, has released his "contributions" to the debate. This 19-page document is, in parts, refreshingly honest about the “unequal” progress that has been made since 2009 (with reductions in supply or demand for some drugs in some places being offset by increases elsewhere), the setbacks and new challenges, and the fact that “the overall magnitude of drug demand has not substantially changed at the global level”.
This week, representatives from many nations will gather at the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna to determine the appropriate course of the international response to illicit drugs. Delegates will debate multiple resolutions while ignoring a truth that goes to the core of current drug policy: human rights abuses in the war on drugs are widespread and systematic.
This IDPC response to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s flagship publication, the World Drug Report, provides an overview of the data and topics presented in the Report and where appropriate, within the broader context of the current state of the UN drug control framework, offer a critical analysis of both.
Since 1909 the international community has worked to eradicate the abuse of narcotics. A century on, the efforts are widely acknowledged to have failed, and worse, have spurred black market violence and human rights abuses. How did this drug control system arise, why has it proven so durable in the face of failure, and is there hope for reform?
Peter Reuter (RAND), Franz Trautmann (Trimbos Institute) (eds.)
15 March 2009
This report commissioned by the European Commission, found no evidence that the global drug problem has been reduced during the period from 1998 to 2007 – the primary target of the 1998 UNGASS, which aimed to significantly reduce the global illicit drugs problem by 2008 through international cooperation and measures in the field of drug supply and drug demand reduction. Broadly speaking the situation has improved a little in some of the richer countries, while for others it worsened, and for some of those it worsened sharply and substantially', among which are a few large developing or transitional countries. Given the limitations of the data, a fair judgment is that the problem became somewhat more severe.
The "Beyond 2008" NGO Forum was held in Vienna, Austria from July 7-9, 2008. It was the final step in the global consultation of NGOs involved in responding to drug related problems and to provide civil society input for the 10-year UNGASS review.
Three draft resolutions and the draft declaration were subject to a line by line examination and intense debate. At the end of the Forum the Declaration and three Resolutions were adopted by consensus by all those participating in the Forum. This was an historic achievement and reflected the maturity and commitment of the global NGO community.
From 7-9 July, 2008, 300 delegates met in Vienna for the Beyond 2008 NGO Forum meant to provide civil society input for the 10-year UNGASS review. The goal was to produce a consensus statement on behalf of the global civil society to the high level governmental meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), to be held in Vienna in March 2009. The Hungarian Civil Liberty Union (HCLU) produced a 10 minute video interviewing the participants.
In its 2006 World Drug Report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) struggles to construct success stories to convince the world that the global drug control regime has been an effective instrument. An escape-route used in this year's World Drug Report is to fabricate comparisons with higher opium production levels a century ago and with higher prevalence figures for tobacco.
Meetings of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) are no forum for debate and change. The author, a former senior officer of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), shows how CND meetings are manipulated in the interests of 17 developed countries that largely fund UNDCP – the CND’s ‘civil service’. However, these major donors are not united on policy or on how to apply the UN drug Conventions, so CND decisions reflect the lowest level of disagreement, with major splits on policy ignored.