In the West few politicians have been ready to admit the drug war’s failure—even as they quietly moderate their policy. They need to be honest with their own voters about the misery it has caused. Only then can they make a good case to the rest of the world that drug addicts need treatment, not prison, and that supply should be managed, not suppressed. A UN meeting next year to take a fresh look at the international conventions that shape national drug laws would be an excellent place to start. The first drug war caused devastation enough. For history to repeat itself would be a tragedy.
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.
For more than ten years, TNI’s Drugs & Democracy programme has been studying the UN drug control conventions and the institutional architecture of the UN drug control regime. As we approach the 2016 UNGASS, this primer is a tool to better understand the role of these conventions, the scope and limits of their flexibility, the mandates they established for the CND, the INCB and the WHO, and the various options for treaty reform.
The voices of affected communities involved in the cultivation of coca leaf, opium poppy and cannabis plants are lacking in the global debate on drug policy reform in general and were at risk of being excluded from the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) 2016 on The World Drug Problem.
The Transnational Institute (TNI) attended the 59th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna from the 14-22nd March. The CND negotiated the outcome document to be approved at the 2016 UNGASS on the world drug problem, to be held on April 19-21 in New York.
Just over one year away from the 2016 UNGASS, denying the reality that the drug policy landscape has fundamentally changed and that tensions with the UN drug conventions are occuring, is no longer a credible option. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged member states to use the 2016 UNGASS on drugs "to conduct a wide-ranging and open debate that considers all options." TNI calls for a special advisory group that should be tasked with recommending how to better deal with the contentious issues following the 2016 UNGASS, in preparation for the next UN high-level review in 2019.
Preparations are gathering pace for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs, to be held on the 19th to 21st April 2016 in New York. Following several months of discussion on procedural elements, attention is now focused on negotiating the content of the "short, substantive, concise and action-orientated outcome document comprising a set of operational recommendations" to be approved by the General Assembly next April. At the CND intersessional meeting on 12th June, countries and regional groups were invited to submit their first ideas for what could be included in this Outcome Document, by a deadline of 11th September.
UN forums in recent years have witnessed more and more governments expressing their frustrations with the failing global war on drugs. This failure goes way beyond just the goals of drug control systems to reduce illicit drug production and use. The key driver of calls for change has been the catastrophic negative impacts of the war on drugs on public health, human rights, development and security.
"There must be no new thinking and no new ideas." This statement is not necessarily one that you might expect from an intergovernmental forum on a hot topic of international policy - except perhaps when that policy is about drugs. This statement sadly, but also neatly, encapsulates the sense of frustration that I can often feel at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) - the annual meeting of the UN on all matters related to drug control, which took place last month in Vienna.
International tensions over Uruguay’s decision to regulate the cannabis market reached new levels when Raymond Yans, president of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), accused Uruguay of negligence with regard to public health concerns, deliberately blocking dialogue attempts and having a "pirate attitude" towards the UN conventions. President Mujica reacted angrily, declaring that someone should "tell that guy to stop lying," while Milton Romani, ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), said that Yans "should consider resigning because this is not how you treat sovereign states."
The upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) in 2016 is an unprecedented opportunity to review and re-direct national drug control policies and the future of the global drug control regime. As diplomats sit down to rethink international and domestic drug policy, they would do well to recall the mandate of the United Nations, not least to ensure security, human rights and development.
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.
This timeline draws on The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition that described the history of international control, how cannabis was included in the current UN drug control system and the subsequent defections by countries and states that have brought the international treaties to breaking point. As the UN gathers for a special session on drug policy in 2016, TNI is calling for a revision of the treaties to be based on scientific evidence and embodying principles of harm reduction and human rights.
The Transnational Institute (TNI) attends the 59th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna from the 14-22nd March. This storify features tweets, blogs and news from the event. Our team in Vienna includes Martin Jelsma, Pien Metaal and Tom Blickman.