While in the Americas cannabis policy reform is taking off, Europe seems to be lagging behind. At the level of national governments denial of the changing policy landscape and inertia to act upon calls for change reigns. At the local level, however, disenchantment with the current cannabis regime gives rise to new idea.
Why peasants from certain regions of the world cultivate the three plants – coca leaves, cannabis and opium poppy – that the international conventions have declared to be illicit? That was the essential question that was discussed at the First Global Forum of Producers of Crops Declared to be Illicit (FMPCDI), that took place in El Prat de Llobregat near Barcelona on January 29-31, 2009.
This presentation gives a short overview of legislative reforms in Europe and Latin America that provide lessons learned in practice about less punitive approaches intended to reduce drug-related harm to the individual and society. Evidence suggests that fears that softening drug laws and their enforcement would lead to sharp increases in drug use, have proven untrue.
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.
Alternative Development programmes, aimed at encouraging peasants to switch from growing illicit drugs-related crops, play an important role in UN drug control strategies. The record of success, however, is a questionable one. Decades of efforts to reduce global drug supply using a combination of developmental and repressive means, managed to shift production from one country to another, but have failed in terms of global impact.
Peter Reuter (RAND), Franz Trautmann (Trimbos Institute) (eds.)
15 March 2009
This report commissioned by the European Commission, found no evidence that the global drug problem has been reduced during the period from 1998 to 2007 – the primary target of the 1998 UNGASS, which aimed to significantly reduce the global illicit drugs problem by 2008 through international cooperation and measures in the field of drug supply and drug demand reduction. Broadly speaking the situation has improved a little in some of the richer countries, while for others it worsened, and for some of those it worsened sharply and substantially', among which are a few large developing or transitional countries. Given the limitations of the data, a fair judgment is that the problem became somewhat more severe.
A useful overview of UN endorsement of harm reduction measures; the legality of harm reduction services under the Drug Conventions; the obligation in human rights law to ensure access to harm reduction services and the global state of harm reduction, listing 82 countries and territories worldwide that presently support or tolerate harm reduction.
United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) New York, 8-10 June 1998
The "United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem" held from 8 to 10 June in New York, did not bring any surprises. The drug summit adopted a global strategy to reduce illicit drug supply and demand by 2008. In the General Assembly room, it was an uninterrupted three day sequence of political speeches. All countries could give their own emphasis to the agenda items and present in seven minutes their own more general view on the drugs issue and their policies to deal with it. But, all in all, it has been a lost opportunity, no evaluation of current drug policies took place whatsoever, it was devoted to (as a New York Times editorial phrased it) "recycling unrealistic pledges".
The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs – held in New York in April 2016 – was hailed as an opportunity for the international community ‘to conduct a wide-ranging and open debate that considers all options’. Although the UNGASS was characterised by many shortcomings and disappointments, it was nonetheless a critical moment for global drug policy reform.
In 2009, the Bolivian government requested that the United Nations amend the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The proposed amendment would remove the unjustified ban on coca leaf chewing while maintaining the strict global control system for coca cultivation and cocaine. The 18-month period to contest Bolivia’s requested amendment ends January 31, 2011. Several countries, including the United States, Colombia, the Russian Federation, Japan, France, the UK, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Denmark, are considering submitting formal objections to the Secretary General. The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) calls on these governments to think again. The continuation of the ban clearly conflicts with official multilateral government declarations, including the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
A strong attack against the European practice of 'leniency' regarding cannabis use and possession took place at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) session (11-15 March, 2002) in Vienna. There was an orchestrated attempt to pass a CND resolution to put a dam against the 'leniency'.
The academic journal Nueva Sociedad recently released an issue to promote the debate in Latin America on drug policy reform. TNI contributed with the paper "Drug policy reform in practice: Experiences with alternatives in Europe and the US".
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 48th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), 7-11 March 2005 in Vienna, was plagued by controversy about the legitimacy of harm reduction policies. Ending in stalemate, guidance for UNODC to operate in this field remains ambiguous. In June, at the Programme Coordinating Board (PCB), a consensus was reached regarding a mandate for UNAIDS to be involved in needle exchange programmes and other harm reduction activities among injecting drug users. What options are available to clarify UNODC’s mandate in this area and more in general to achieve a breakthrough in policy dilemmas that surfaced recent years at the UN level.
Within the last decade the hitherto little known psychoactive substance of khat has emerged as a regional and international issue. In the Horn of Africa khat production has spurred an economic boom, but dramatic increases in consumption have raised public health concerns. Given the complexity of the topic spanning multiple academic disciplines and fields of professional practice, the need for a systematic overview is urgent.
Bolivia’s denunciation of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs is not just about one treaty. It is about finding an appropriate balance between multiple concurrent and conflicting international legal obligations. When international treaties ratified by or acceded to by Bolivia and relevant jurisprudence are taken into account, it is clear that Bolivia would find itself in breach of multiple international agreements were it to fully implement the 1961 Single Convention as written. A reservation on the 1961 Single Convention is the most reasonable and proportionate way to address this conflict.
It is a noble and worthy step to attempt to change the drug control treaties, but this is likely to take a long time and it may not be the essential starting place of reform. The amount of flexibility in the treaties is only partly a function of treaty language, for this language is always interpreted, and interpretations can vary depending upon how many states actively argue for more flexibility.
This briefing paper analyses the reasons behind Bolivia’s proposal to remove from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs the obligation to abolish the practice of coca chewing and the opposing arguments that have been brought forward.