In December 2013 we had undoubtedly the biggest news of the last few decades concerning drug policy: Uruguay became the first country in the world to adopt a law regulating the production, sale and consumption of cannabis throughout the national territory. Amidst heated debate, the project was approved on July 31, 2013 by the Chamber of Deputies, and on December 10, 2013 by the Senate. A few days later President José Mujica formally enacted the law that will regulate the cannabis market.
The dynamics of reform in the Americas continues. This time, the momentum comes from the Caribbean region. Jamaica and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states are now moving to change their marijuana laws. Among the proposed changes discussed in Jamaica were the decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of ganja for recreational and religious use and cultivating it for medicinal purposes.
In Mexico, since 2006 a public security strategy has been implemented based on militarization, which has prioritized the use of force – including lethal force – based on the presumption of national security above principles of the safety of citizens. Involvement of armed forces as the central axis for Mexico’s security strategy has sparked serious concerns, particularly pertaining to obligations regarding human rights.
Cannabis is the world’s most widely used illicit drug. But for how much longer? In a short space of time we have moved from absolute global prohibition of the drug, with the emergence of legalised and regulated production and retail not in just one nation (Uruguay) but also, surprisingly, in two US states (Colorado and Washington). Do these and other new permissive models in Spain and Belgium, for example, point to a tipping point in the debate? Could cannabis step out of the shadows and join the ranks of alcohol and tobacco, the world’s most popular legal and regulated drugs?
The Institute of National Problematics of the University of San Carlos in Guatemala recently presented a new publication “Despenalization of drugs: Realities and Perspectives in Guatemala”. The new tendency towards legalization and/or decriminalization in the hemisphere stirred an internal debate about the need to revise drug policies in Guatemala towards policies with an emphasis on prevention and treatment of problematic use of drugs.
State-level cannabis reforms have exposed the inability of the United States to abide by the terms of the legal bedrock of the global drug control system. It is calls for a conversation the US federal government wishes to avoid. The result is a new official position on the UN drugs treaties that, despite its seductively progressive tone, serves only to sustain the status quo and may cause damage beyond drug policy.
The most important drug policy event this quarter was undoubtedly the 57th Session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna from 13 to 21 March, the first two days of which were dedicated to a high-level review of the past five years. The winds of drug policy change were clearly felt in the statements made by several Latin American countries – Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay – and some European countries – the Czech Republic, Norway and Switzerland, among others.
It is unfortunate that 35 years after the first chemical spraying in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, we are still writing about aerial sprayings in Colombia, demanding the current government – how many governments have not happened since! – to definitely defer an ecocide and incompetent policy. Throughout these years we have seen increasing national and international voices opposing the spraying of coca with the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate).
State-level cannabis reforms, which gathered steam this month, have exposed the inability of the United States to abide by the terms of the legal bedrock of the global drug control system; the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This is something that should force a much-needed conversation about reform to long- standing international agreements. But while ostensibly 'welcoming' the international drug policy reform debate, it is a conversation the US federal government actually wishes to avoid.
Alle 25 Nederlandse burgemeesters die verzoeken hadden ingediend om te experimenteren met gereguleerde of gedoogde aanvoer van cannabis naar de coffeeshops, kregen als Kerst cadeau van minister Opstelten van Veiligheid en Justitie (VenJ) te horen: “nee, nee en nog eens nee”. En in zijn brief aan de Tweede Kamer klinkt tussen de regels door “en hou nou toch eens op met zeuren want dat gaat echt niet gebeuren”.
Writing in 1996, Norbert Gilmore noted that ‘little has been written about drug use and human rights. Human rights are rarely mentioned expressly in drug literature and drug use is rarely mentioned in human rights literature.’  Almost twenty years later, the literature examining drug control issues through the lens of international human rights law has grown, but the total body of peer reviewed commentary and analysis in this area would barely rank the issue as a footnote in the broader human rights lexicon.
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”.