International tensions over Uruguay’s decision to regulate cannabis reached new levels when Raymond Yans, president of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), accused Uruguay of having a "pirate attitude" towards the UN conventions.
INCB President Yans disqualifies himself by accusing Uruguay of negligence with regard to public health concerns, deliberately blocking dialogue attempts and having a "pirate attitude" towards the UN conventions, and should consider stepping down.
Sweden joined the United States and the United Kingdom in objecting to the re-accession of Bolivia to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Italy and Canada also objected, but the objection of Sweden is particularly disturbing.
Today the Plurinational State of Bolivia can celebrate a rightful victory, as the country can become formally a party again to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, without being bound by its unjust and unrealistic requirement that “coca leaf chewing must be abolished.”
Latin America has emerged at the vanguard of efforts to promote debate on drug policy reform. For decades, Latin American governments largely followed the drug control policies and programs of Washington’s so-called war on drugs. Yet two parallel trends have resulted in a dramatic change in course: the emergence of left-wing governments that have challenged Washington’s historic patterns of unilateralism and interventionism and growing frustration with the failure of the prohibitionist drug control model put forward by the US government.
Reflections upon this year’s CND are mixed. On the one hand, some states went further than ever before in openly challenging the current regime on the grounds that, after a century, it needs modernising. That the government of Uruguay is currently considering a domestic policy on cannabis that would put it in breach of the Single Convention shows that, in one instance at least, we have moved beyond rhetoric and posturing.
For fifty years the World’s attitude to and treatment of the coca leaf and coca farmers has been controlled by the UN Drugs Conventions beginning with the Convention of 1961 which prohibited the production, possession and purchase of the coca leaf as well as cocaine. The assertion of this report is that the illegal status of the coca leaf is based upon a misinterpretation of science, first of all in 1950 with the publication of the misleading study of the Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf; and much later with the blocking of the publication of a report in 1995 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which made abundantly clear that the coca leaf itself has “no negative health effects”.
At the root of the drug policy debate in Latin America is growing recognition that present policies have failed to achieve the desired objectives, the extremely high costs of implementing those policies paid by Latin American countries, and the need to place higher priority on reducing unacceptably high levels of violence. Of particular concern is the spread of organized crime and the resulting violence, corruption and erosion of democratic institutions.
Despite its unprecedented nature within the history of the international drug control regime, and regardless of warnings to the contrary, the Plurinational State of Bolivia’s withdrawal from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs on 1 January 2012 did not result in a collapse of the United Nations (UN) based control system. That said, there is a strong case that, although marking the centenary of the regime, 2012 will be seen as the beginning of the end of the treaty system in its present form and the re-structuring of a policy world apparently so cherished by many members of the International Narcotics Control Board.
Sweden joined the United States and the United Kingdom in objecting to the re-accession of Bolivia to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs after Bolivia had denounced the convention and asked for re-accession with a reservation that allows for the traditional age-old ancestral habit of coca chewing in the country. Italy and Canada also objected, but the objection of Sweden is particularly disturbing.
The UK says in its objection to Bolivia's reaccession to the 1961 UN Single Convention with a reservation that allows for the traditional chewing of coca, that it 'respects the cultural importance of the coca leaf in Bolivia'. It also recognises the status of traditional uses of coca under the Bolivian Constitution. These words reflect that change in views one would have expected since the 1960s. But in what way does the UK in fact 'respect' the cultural importance of coca when going on to try to see through the destruction of the manifestation of that culture? (See also: Objections to Bolivia's reservation to allow coca chewing in the UN conventions)
Today the Plurinational State of Bolivia can celebrate a rightful victory, as the country can become formally a party again to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, but without being bound by its unjust and unrealistic requirement that “coca leaf chewing must be abolished.” This represents the successful conclusion of an arduous process in which Bolivia has sought to reconcile its international treaty obligations with its 2009 Constitution, which obliges upholding the coca leaf as part of Bolivia’s cultural patrimony.
Evo Morales’ global crusade to decriminalize the coca leaf, launched in 2006 after the coca growers’ union leader was first elected president of Bolivia, has finally attained a partial, if largely, symbolic victory. A year ago, Bolivia temporarily withdrew from the 1961 U.N. convention on narcotic drugs because it classifies coca leaf, the raw material of cocaine, as an illicit drug. It has now rejoined, with one important caveat: The centuries-old Andean practice of chewing or otherwise ingesting coca leaves, a mild stimulant in its natural form, will now be universally recognized as legal within Bolivia.
A major international row with wide-ranging implications for global drugs policy has erupted over the right of Bolivia's indigenous Indian tribes to chew coca leaves, the principal ingredient in cocaine.
Bolivia will again belong to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs after its bid to rejoin with a reservation that it does not accept the treaty’s requirement that “coca leaf chewing must be banned” was successful Friday. Opponents needed one-third of the 184 signatory countries to object, but fell far, far short despite objections by the US and the International Narcotics Control Board.
Tradition is disposable. Evidence is marginal. Economic arguments are not important. This, in a nutshell, is what Sweden said to the UN to oppose traditional uses of coca in Bolivia. It is opposite of what it says to the EU to defend the use and sales of snus at home. Sweden may have gained a small amount of favour from the US, and it may have further promoted its reputation for being tough on drugs, but it did so by contradicting itself, providing clear ammunition to those who would seek to enforce the ban on snus and ensure that the export ban is not lifted.
Last week, the United Nations voted on an appeal by Bolivia to amend the international treaty that prohibits the chewing of coca leaf. Bolivia won a partial victory — a tiny sign that the world may be ever so slowly coming to its senses on the insanely harsh treatment of this humble, mostly harmless plant and the people, mostly South American natives, who enjoy it in its raw form. (Ricardo Cortés is the author of A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola)
A whiff of change is in the air regarding drug control policy. Officials in two American states, Colorado and Washington, are pondering how to implement their voters’ decisions last November to legalise cannabis. One immediate consequence is that the United States will be in breach of the UN Convention. Good. It should now join Latin American governments in an effort to reform that outdated document to allow signatories room to experiment. Imposing a failed policy on everybody benefits nobody.
Daniel Wolfe, director of the International Harm Reduction Development Program, director of Open Society Foundations Global Drug Policy Program
04 March 2013
In what has become a chilling annual exercise, the UN's drug watchdog the International Narcotics Control Board released its annual report today. The INCB describes itself as a "quasi-judicial" group of experts charged with monitoring compliance with international drug control treaties, but the report's drug war bias and egregious omissions makes us wonder who is judging the judges.