The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961 aimed to eliminate the illicit production and non-medical use of cannabis, cocaine, and opioids, an aim later extended to many pharmaceutical drugs. Over the past 50 years international drug treaties have neither prevented the globalisation of the illicit production and non-medical use of these drugs, nor, outside of developed countries, made these drugs adequately available for medical use.
The International Guiding Principles on Alternative Development approved last week at an international meeting in Lima, Peru, represents a lost opportunity to promote equitable economic development in some of the world’s poorest regions. The final document on the Guiding Principles bears little resemblance to the document that was originally drafted in November 2011 in Thailand by a group of more than 100 governmental and non-governmental experts.
The terms used in the preface to the 2011 INCB annual report leave no doubt as to the illness afflicting this UN body: a (deep) regret  is running through its old veins. Yet again, its poison is directed at Bolivia, that small country which dares to challenge and stretch what is allegedly firm and static, and all in the name of an old indigenous habit. This saga must come to a close sometime soon, both parties must have thought, but as yet no happy ending is in sight.
Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala delivered a landmark declaration to the United Nations Secretary General calling on the organization to lead a debate on alternative approaches to the current war on drugs, though it is likely to fall on deaf ears. The statement, issued to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on October 1, contains 11 points outlining the three countries’ views on the current state of organized crime and counternarcotics policy in the Americas (see declaration in English here, and in Spanish here).
Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico – hardly liberal bastions – have taken the matter a step further. The Latin American countries, each threatened by drug violence, sent a clearly worded declaration to the United Nations, inviting member states to undertake a consultation process to come up with more effective drug policy strategies. They urged the UN to “exercise its leadership…. to conduct deep reflection to analyze all available options, including regulatory or market measures, in order to establish a new paradigm,” the declaration states, translated into English by the Guatemala Times.
Heather J. Haase, Nicolas Edward Eyle, Sebastian Scholl , Joshua Raymond Schrimpf
31 July 2012
The way the world looks at drug control is changing. There has been a growing awareness of the issue for the past decade, as well as increasing public outcry over what many see as a failure of the once popular "war on drugs." Nowhere is this battle more pronounced than in the so-called "marijuana wars," which are slowly growing into an old-fashioned standoff between the states and the federal government.
The UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which monitors implementation of the global drug treaties, has trained its fire on Bolivia, this time accusing the country of threatening the integrity of the entire international drug control regime by defending traditional uses of the coca leaf.
Just before ending 2011, Bolivia presented the formal notification to the United Nations secretariat in New York, announcing their re-adherence to the 1961 UN Single Convention, including a reservation on the use of coca leaf in its natural form, such as coca chewing and infusions. This step was expected to happen, after Bolivia withdrew in June 2011 from the Treaty in an attempt to reconcile its international obligations with its 2008 Constitution. From the day the re-adherence was received in New York, according to the procedure and established practice, it will take 30 days for Bolivia to again become a full member of the 1961 Convention. In other words, on January 28, 2012, the re-adherence will be a fact.
The presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala all called for a vigorous global debate of drug laws at the United Nations on Wednesday, raising new questions about the wisdom of the four-decade-old, U.S.-led "war on drugs." Although none of the leaders explicitly called for drugs to be legalized, they suggested at the U.N. General Assembly that they would welcome wholesale changes to policies that have shown scant evidence of limiting drug flows. Guatemalan president Perez Molina said his government "would like to establish an international group of countries that are well disposed to reforming global policies on drugs."
Hundred years ago, narcotics passed from country to country with minimal interference from the authorities. That all changed with the 1912 International Opium Convention, which committed countries to stopping the trade in opium, morphine and cocaine. Then, as now, the US stood in the vanguard against narcotics. While the UK's position is unequivocal today, a century ago it was an unenthusiastic signatory.
Bolivian President Evo Morales defended Bolivians' right to chew coca leaves, the main ingredient of cocaine, on Monday, saying it was an ancient radition and the world's No. 3 cocaine producer was working to fight drug trafficking. Holding up a coca leaf to help underline his message at a United Nations anti-drugs meeting in Vienna, the leftist leader, a former coca leaf farmer, said coca leaf producers were not "drug dealers" and it was not the same as cocaine.
Britain's funding of Iran's anti-drugs trafficking programmes has been called into question after a UN watchdog expressed alarm at a sharp rise in the number of narcotics smugglers executed in the Islamic state. A new report by Christof Heyns, the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, spells out concerns that the flow of overseas aid to Iran has been followed by an increase in hangings.
The year 2012 marks the centenary of the international drug control system and the first instance of a state being moved to denounce formally any of the UN drug control treaties. The 55th session of the Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND), held in Vienna between 12th and 16th March, therefore looked set to be a fascinating event and did not disappoint. As expected, member states favouring the current regime praised its virtues and ongoing relevance 100 years since The Hague Opium Convention; behaviour that found support in the statements and positions of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB or Board).
In a letter to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) the Government of Bolivia rejects the judgments made by the independent agency of the United Nations after a visit in December 2011 and the conclusions of the Board on the decision to withdraw from the 1961 UN Single Convention and re-adhere with a reservation that would allow for the use of coca in its natural state within Bolivian territory an uphold the traditional practice of coca chewing. The Bolivian government says the INCB is overstepping its mandate. TNI publishes an unofficial translation of the original spanish version of the letter.
As the debate on drug policy and law reform gathers momentum on the international stage, the failings of the three UN drug control conventions (1961, 1971 and 1988) have come into stark relief. Criticisms of the global drug control regime established by the drug treaties have now entered the mainstream public discourse and political debate. The discussions around treaty reform that would allow or facilitate a wider spectrum of approaches to drugs are assuming a degree of urgency.
The three UN Drug Conventions of 1961, 1971 and 1988 currently impose a ‘one-size-fits-all’ prohibitionist approach to drug policy throughout the world. This new report explains in detail how the Conventions could be amended in order to give countries greater freedom to adopt drug policies better suited to their special needs.
The following notes are summaries of the EU Horizontal Working Party on Drugs discussions about Bolivia’s coca amendment and denunciation of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, taken from the reports of their meetings since September 2010.
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?