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The INCB, rather than making harsh judgements based on a selective choice of outdated treaty articles, should use its mandate more constructively and help draw attention to the inherent contradictions in the current treaty system with regard to how plants, plant-based raw materials and traditional uses are treated.
Conflicting views and policies within the UN system on harm reduction have become a major concern. Consistency in messages is crucial especially where it concerns joint global programmes such as the efforts to slow down the HIV/AIDS epidemic; efforts in which harm reduction practices like needle exchange and substitution treatment play a pivotal role.
In a confidential and authoritative memorandum to the INCB, UNODC legal experts argue that most harm reduction measures are in fact acceptable under the conventions. According to the Legal Affairs Section "it could easily be argued that the Guiding Principles of Drug Demand Reduction provide a clear mandate for the institution of harm reduction policies that, respecting cultural and gender differences, provide for a more supportive environment for drug users."
In a new report released in February 2008 by the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), the INCB comes in for some heavy criticism for being overly secretive, closed to external dialogue with civil society, and out of kilter with similar agencies in other UN programmes. IHRA also debunks the INCB’s defence that it is ‘unique in international relations’.
A report published in March 2007 by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Open Society Institute Public Health Program, strongly criticises the INCB. It accuses the Board of becoming 'an obstacle to effective programs to prevent and treat HIV and chemical dependence'. “Nearly one in three HIV infections outside Africa is among people who inject drugs. The International Narcotics Control Board could and should be playing a key role in stopping this injection-driven HIV epidemic — but it’s not,” said Joanne Csete, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and co-author of the report.
The backbone of the United Nations drug control system consists of three UN Drug Conventions. The prohibition of potentially harmful substances has its origin in the desire to protect human well-being. However, the way in which the global regime was set up decades ago and the escalation of repression it has brought about since, has been an historical mistake increasing rather than diminishing the problems. There is no point now in dreaming about how the world might have looked without it, or deluding ourselves that all the problems could be solved by scrapping the conventions. The challenge is to create the political space which would allow a reform process to move ahead. A process guided by pragmatism, open-mindedness and evaluation of practices on the basis of costs and benefits; providing leeway for experimentation and freedom to challenge the wisdom of the existing conventions.
On thursday 28 February 2008 the Dutch Parliamentary Justice Commission devoted its debate to the drugs UNGASS review. Martin Jelsma was invited as one of the experts to share with the commission TNI's views on the importance of the review process. In his contribution he highlights the opportunity to use the 2008/9 period to achieve a breakthrough on harm reduction acceptance at the UN level, to evaluate the performance of UN agencies like UNODC and the INCB, and to open the door for a revision of the UN drug control treaty system. only available in Dutch
This briefing paper brings together material and analysis from a number of recent reports that raise questions about the role and functioning of the INCB. The IDPC analysis is that the Board mixes a rigid and overzealous approach to some aspects of its mandate, while showing a selective reticence in others. These inconsistencies do not arise automatically from the structure or role of the Board, but from the operational and policy decisions of its officers and members.
Weaknesses in the United Nations drug control system have often been identified, related to the functioning of the key organs – the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) –, related to collaboration with the wider UN system – the World Health Organistaion (WHO), UNAIDS, UN Development Programme (UNDP), etc. – and related to the outdated character of several treaty provisions.
Where legal ambiguities and disagreement persist around cannabis policies, the INCB continues to make narrow legal interpretations of what is allowed under the UN drug conventions and repeatedly expresses its strong objection to any move towards decriminalization of possession for personal use, lowering law enforcement priorities for cannabis or reclassification.
The 2007 INCB Annual Report shows some signs of a more balanced approach by the INCB to the policy dilemmas around proportionality of sentences and harm reduction. While this is welcome, the Board still falls a long way short of what is necessary for it to play a positive and objective role in helping governments to find the right balance between their drug control obligations, and wider policy objectives related to social development, public health, and human rights protections. On the issue of the coca leaf especially, the INCB shows complete intransigence towards the issue of indigenous uses in the Andean region.
On 5 March 2008 the INCB releases its Annual Report for 2007, containing highly controversial statements on the coca leaf. The report is under embargo until 00.01 hrs GMT, please revisit this site then to find the relevant sections from the report and the responses to it from TNI and the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).
When the INCB Annual Report for 2007 – under embargo until March 5 – started to circulate about a month ago, I was in complete shock after reading the worst ever paragraphs on coca written in UN history for several decades. The position taken by the Board now can be characterized by no more talk about the need to solve 'long-standing ambiguities in the conventions', not a shred of sympathy anymore for traditional customs or rights of indigenous peoples, no trace of cultural sensitivity at all, an all-out attack against coca chewing, drinking of coca tea or any other uses of coca in its natural form in the Andean region and the northern parts of Argentina and Chile.
Read here the full text of the controversial statements on coca leaf included in this year's Annual Report of the INCB. Some highlights:
> "The Board calls upon the Governments of Bolivia and Peru to initiate action without delay with a view to eliminating uses of coca leaf, including coca leaf chewing" and "each party to the Convention should establish as a criminal offence, when committed intentionally, the possession and purchase of coca leaf for personalconsumption". > "The Board again calls on the Governments of Bolivia and Peru to consider amending their national legislation so as to abolish or prohibit activities that are contrary to the 1961 Convention, such as coca leaf chewing and the manufacture of mate de coca (coca tea)".
The Transnational Institute condemns the decision by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) in their 2007 annual report released today, which calls on countries to ‘abolish or prohibit coca leaf chewing and the manufacture of coca tea’.
Cocaleros in Bolivia threathen to occupy the installations of the United Nations in the country as well as those of Coca Cola in El Alto in protest against the decision by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to "abolish or prohibit coca leaf chewing and the manufacture of coca tea," according to the newspaper La Razón.
We don’t ban beer and spirits because some folk abuse alcohol. Yet as part of its bid to stamp out illicit cocaine consumption, the United Nations drug watchdog is telling millions of indigenous South Americans to ditch their millennia-old coca-chewing and coca tea-making traditions — and calling on their governments to criminalize the activities.