Distinguishing between drug possession for personal use and supply and trafficking is widely acknowledged as one of the most difficult and controversial issues facing drug legislators and policy makers. To address the problem, two solutions are typically enacted: the threshold scheme and the "flexible" model.
A wider trend for drug law reform is arising out of a felt need to make legislation more effective and more humane. Within this trend, a number of countries have considered decriminalisation or depenalisation models and many have, at least initially, considered threshold quantities as a good way to distinguish between what is possession and what is supply or trafficking and as a means to ensure that the sentences imposed are proportionate to the harmfulness of the offence.
The drug trade has increased globally in intensity and reach, and substance abuse in South Africa has escalated rapidly. Drug misuse is a major social, legal and public health challenge despite the war on drugs, in which the USA has a disproportionate influence. Why this lack of progress and what can be done about it?
In a widely watched You Tube video, U.S. President Barack Obama is asked whether or not the drug war may in fact be counterproductive. Instead of the resounding NO that would have come from any of his recent predecessors, Obama responded: “I think this is an entirely legitimate topic for debate.” He then qualified his remarks by adding, “I am not in favor of legalization.” Nonetheless, even acknowledging the legitimacy of debate on U.S. drug policy is a significant shift from the past, when successive administrations stifled discussion and routinely labeled anyone promoting alternative approaches to the socalled U.S. “war on drugs” as dangerous and surreptitiously promoting massive drug use and poisoning America’s youth.
The New Zealand Law Commission was asked to address the efficacy of the Misuse of Drugs Act in reducing the demand for, and supply of, drugs prohibited under the International Drug Conventions. The Commission has recommended the existing Act be repealed and replaced by a new Act administered by the Ministry of Health. Justice Hammond said the thrust of the proposed new Act is to facilitate a more effective interface between the criminal justice and health sectors: “We need to recognise that the abuse of drugs is both a health and a criminal public policy problem.”
The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.
Maria Moreira, Brendan Hughes, Claudia Costa Storti, Frank Zobel
23 June 2011
This profile describes the national drug policy of Portugal, a policy that has attracted significant attention recently in the media and in policy debates. It considers national strategies and action plans, the legal context within which they operate and the public funds spent, or committed, to resource them. It also describes the political bodies and mechanisms set up to coordinate the response to the multi-faceted problem and the systems of evaluation that may help to improve future policy. The profile puts this information in context by outlining the size, wealth and economic situation of the country as a whole, as well as the historical development of the current policy.
In 2000, the Portuguese government responded to widespread public concern over drugs by rejecting a "war on drugs" approach and instead decriminalized drug possession and use. It further rebuffed convention by placing the responsibility for decreasing drug demand as well as managing dependence under the Ministry of Health, rather than the Ministry of Justice. With this, the official response toward drug dependent persons shifted from viewing them as criminals, to treating them as patients.
Fifty years after signing the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and 40 years after the U.S. government declared a "war on drugs," many obstacles remain despite the partial successes of efforts to counter the problem. The Andean-United States Dialogue Forum, noted with concern how drug policy has monopolized the diplomatic and economic agenda between the Andean countries, contributing to tensions among the governments and impeding cooperation on other crucial priorities, such as safeguarding democratic processes from criminal networks.
The Sentencing Council for England and Wales initiated a consultation process in order to produce definitive sentencing guidelines for drugs offences for the UK in the future. In order to feed into this process, IDPC, in collaboration with TNI, held an Expert seminar on proportionality in sentencing for drug offences, on 20th May 2011, in London, UK. The seminar was an important gathering of international experts on the subject of proportionality and provided a space for fruitful and in depth discussions on sentencing experiences from around the world. A draft report of the meeting was sent to the Sentencing Council as part of the consultation process on 20th June.
Faced with both a public health crisis and a public relations disaster, Portugal’s elected officials took a bold step. They decided to decriminalize the possession of all illicit drugs — from marijuana to heroin — but continue to impose criminal sanctions on distribution and trafficking. The goal: easing the burden on the nation’s criminal justice system and improving the people’s overall health by treating addiction as an illness, not a crime.
What are the benefits and risks of eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana possession for personal use?
What are the risks and benefits of distinguishing international narco-trafficking from small-scale dealing?
The war on drugs has failed. What are the alternatives?
These and other questions will be discussed by the new Global Commission on Drug Policy, to be launched on the 24th and 25th of January, 2011, in Geneva. The Commission will include eminent personalities such as Mario Vargas Llosa, Javier Solana, Ernesto Zedillo, Ruth Dreifuss, Michel Kazatchkine, Cesar Gaviria, Carlos Fuentes and Thorvald Stoltenberg, among others. The Global Commission will be chaired by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, (former president of Brazil).
A group set up by former Latin American leaders and personalities including Virgin chief Richard Branson on Monday recommended that consumers of illicit drugs should not be treated as criminals. The Global Commission on Drug Policies felt that the prevalent repressive approach to drug abuse was failing, members said after their two-day inaugural meeting.
Three former Latin American presidents have declared the US-led “war on drugs” a failure and called for new strategies focusing on treatment to replace a repressive approach they say is discredited. The former presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil made their call at the launch of the Global Commission on Drugs Policies in Geneva this week. The three statesmen hope the new body will develop proposals that will move the global drugs debate away from prohibition and towards treating the issue as a public health problem.
In an online town hall session yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama suggested that, while he is not in favor of drug legalization, he does believe drugs ought to be treated as “more of a public health problem.” Obama went on to add: “On drugs, I think a lot of times we’ve been so focused on arrests, incarceration, interdiction, that we don’t spend as much time thinking about how do we shrink demand.” (See the video clip below for the president’s full remarks.)
A Washington State Democrat has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana and sell it in liquor stores. Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson filed House Bill 1550 on Tuesday, which proposes pot be sold to adults aged 21 and up. The bill argues regulation and taxation of weed would "generate revenue for health care programs" and "create jobs in the agricultural sector." It suggests the state's Liquor Control Board could issue licenses for marijuana growing.
The West Coast is a different world when it comes to progress on drug policy reform. Three of the four states most likely to see strong pushes for marijuana legalization in the next couple of years are on the West Coast (the other being Colorado). And medical marijuana is a fact of life from San Diego to Seattle. But it's not just pot politics that makes the West Coast different. The region has also been a pioneer in sentencing reform and harm reduction practices, even if countervailing forces remain strong and both policy areas remain contested terrain.
Today the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) released its annual report. I’ve been following the Board for many, many years now, have often criticized its narrow interpretation of the treaties, have questioned the validity of its usually negative comments about any policy changes in the direction of harm reduction or decriminalization, and have warned repeatedly about its tendency to overstep its clearly defined mandate.
The municipality of the Dutch city of Utrecht recently announced two scientific experiments on cannabis policy. One experiment will be to set up a closed club model for adult recreational cannabis users. Cannabis smokers will grow their own marijuana in a cooperative, a move which would go against the government's drive to discourage coffee shops. The other experiment concerns treatment for people who are vulnerable to psychotic disorders.