In its 2006 World Drug Report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) struggles to construct success stories to convince the world that the global drug control regime has been an effective instrument. UNODC Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa claims that the world is experiencing a devastating “cannabis pandemic”. His strong language is at odds with other sections of the report, TNI commented in a press release.
The report reviews 20 years of data from US government funded surveillance systems on government drug control spending, cannabis seizures and cannabis arrests, in order to assess the impact of enforced cannabis prohibition on cannabis potency, price and availability. The report’s findings highlight the clear failure of cannabis prohibition efforts by showing that as the United States has dramatically scaled up drug law enforcement, cannabis potency has nevertheless increased, prices have dropped, and cannabis remains widely available.
The last of the four ‘round tables’ of the high-level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs was devoted to the broad issue of Countering illicit drug traffic and supply, and alternative development. TNI had been nominated by the Vienna NGO Committee to give a statement on the issue of Alternative Development (AD), being one of the few member NGOs with a track record on this issue and having actively participated in the Beyond 2008 initiative, including the negotiations at the July NGO forum to reach consensus on the text of a paragraph on AD in the final declaration. This is our impression of the event.
In recent years there has been much talk of the so-called “Portuguese model,” based on an initiative that led to the use of illicit drugs being decriminalised in 2001. In fact, it is often said that Portugal was the first country in Europe to decriminalise drug use de jure, while Spain, for example, took that step de facto for the first time in 1974, except that it was not through a specific law but rather as a result of a Supreme Court ruling.
TNI co-signed a letter that was sent to the Dutch Prime Minister and relevant parliamentary commissions, stressing the need for an active Dutch involvement in the UNGASS review process and specifically to use the moment to open the discussion about the UN conventions that are an obstacle to further developments in Dutch cannabis policy.
The new coalition government of conservative liberals (VVD) and social-democrats (PvdA) presented its coalition agreement on Monday. They agreed to abolish the cannabis pass, but access to coffeeshops remains limited to residents of the Netherlands. Customers need to identify themselves with an identity card or a residence permit together with a certificate of residence. Non-resident foreigners are still banned. In other words, there will be no cannabis pass, but the policy continues.
The new coalition government agreed to abolish the cannabis pass, but access to coffeeshops remains limited to residents of the Netherlands. It shows all the signs of a half-baked compromise between two diametrically opposed positions.
These are interesting times for drug law reform, which, as it gathers pace, is asking important questions of international law. A UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs is set for 2016 just as national reforms are challenging international treaties that form the bedrock of a global prohibition regime that has dominated since the turn of the twentieth century. States parties to the three UN drug control conventions must now confront the legal and political dilemmas this creates. This is the situation in which the US now finds itself following cannabis reforms in various states that are at odds with these treaties.
Decriminalizing cannabis in the Netherlands and regulating the back-door of the coffee-shops and cultivation of cannabis would save 160 million euro on expenses by the police and the criminal justice system and bring in 260 million euro in tax revenues. The Dutch government is already earning some 400 million euros a year in corporate taxes from cannabis-selling coffee-shops.
The municipality of the Dutch city of Utrecht recently announced two scientific experiments on cannabis policy. One experiment will be to set up a closed club model for adult recreational cannabis users. Cannabis smokers will grow their own marijuana in a cooperative, a move which would go against the government's drive to discourage coffee shops. The other experiment concerns treatment for people who are vulnerable to psychotic disorders.
TNI has been closely involved with the Global Commission on Drug Policy which presented its report in New York on June 2. Some years ago we published a report, entitled Cracks in the Vienna Consensus in which we argued that cracks were appearing in the supposedly universal model under the UN treaty system. In reality, the global system is based on a highly fragile consensus of Vienna, where the UN drug control system is headquartered, and the painstaking negotiations every year to keep up the appearance of unity have become the symbol of paralysis and frustration.
The new president of France, François Hollande, is not likely to change cannabis policies. His choice as Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, is a declared opponent to any reform on cannabis. During the election campaign, Hollande already opposed the proposal to convert the criminal offence of cannabis use into misdemeanour, put forward by his security adviser and mayor of Dijon, François Rebsamen. Hollande did not want to “give any signal foregoing a deterrent against the use of cannabis."
The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Costa, recently visited Amsterdam on 24 April. Accompanied by some officials of the Netherlands Ministry of Health and of the City of Amsterdam and UNODC staff, he dropped in on the coffeeshop De Dampkring (the Atmosphere) and a user room (for inhalation and injection of heroin and cocaine). He wrote his personal account for his blog Costa’s corner but it was never published. Apparently it proved to be too controversial with his Dutch host. It now has popped up on the Transform drug policy blog and the ENCOD website.
In Australia a vicious debate on cannabis policy started when Alex Wodak, the head of the Sydney drug and alcohol clinic at St Vincent's Hospital, suggested that marijuana be regulated like alcohol or tobacco. He proposed to sell cannabis legally in post offices in packets that warn against its effects.
Government will not permit the experiment to have state-run hash and marijuana dispensaries in Copenhagen. As they believe that regulating hash and marijuana would likely increase both availability and use, which was unwise given the range of side effects that cannabis has been linked to.
The pilot project to have state-run hash and marijuana dispensaries in Copenhagen received a setback after the Justice Ministry turned down the City Council's request to experiment with regulating cannabis in the city. In a letter to the Council, the social-democrat Minister of Justice, Morten Bødskov, wrote that the government will not permit the experiment as they believe that regulating hash and marijuana would likely increase both availability and use, which was unwise given the range of side effects that cannabis has been linked to.
Barely a week after an opinion poll showed that 65% of the Dutch are in favour of regulating cannabis production just as in Uruguay, the minister of Justice and Security of The Netherlands, Ivo Opstelten, told parliament that he will not allow regulated cannabis cultivation to supply the coffeeshops in the country. Two in three large municipal councils back regulated cannabis cultivation, but the minister will probably not allow a single one of the 25 proposals to experiment with regulated cultivation that have been submitted.
Under legislation spearheaded by the conservative government, only Dutch residents will be allowed to enter cannabis-selling coffeeshops. The Dutch government announced on Friday, 27 May, that it will push ahead with plans requiring those purchasing marijuana in the country’s coffeeshops to first obtain an official pass — a move designed to curtail tourists from buying the drug. The announcement hit the international headlines.