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.
Ignoring all the scientific evidence, Canada Health Minister Tony Clement will move to close Canada's only sanctioned safe-injection site, announcing it will appeal a British Colombia court ruling that Vancouver's Insite should stay open because reducing the risk of drug overdoses is a vital health service.
TNI has been involved in international drugs policy work since the 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS). This new report summarises the lessons of 10 years of work in this field, emphasising drug controls that respect human rights: the rights of farmers caught in the illicit economy to a life in dignity; decriminalisation of drug use; and the promotion of harm reduction approaches where they are proven to save lives.
In April 2012, most of the hemisphere’s presidents gathered at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia and held a closed-door meeting where drug policy was the only topic discussed. Following that meeting, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the Organisation of American States (OAS) was being tasked to analyse the results of hemispheric drug policies and to “explore new approaches to strengthen this struggle and become more effective”. Thus began a one year process led by OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, with the support of OAS staff from the Secretariat for Multidimensional Security and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), as well as a range of independent experts.
A wider trend for drug law reform is arising out of a felt need to make legislation more effective and more humane. Within this trend, a number of countries have considered decriminalisation or depenalisation models and many have, at least initially, considered threshold quantities as a good way to distinguish between what is possession and what is supply or trafficking and as a means to ensure that the sentences imposed are proportionate to the harmfulness of the offence.
In March 2008, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) provoked outrage in Bolivia by calling for the elimination of traditional uses of coca, such as chewing coca leaves and drinking coca tea. A new briefing urges to address the current erroneous classification of coca under the UN conventions. It also notes an apparent shift on the issue by the US government and urges the US to formally clarify its position.
Repressive drugs policies in the last ten years have patently failed as drugs are cheaper than ever, but legalisation doesn’t solve all the problems associated with the illegal drug economy either. So what are the principles and strategies for effective alternative policies that are emerging?
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.
Martin Jelsma, from the Transnational Institute, prepared an analysis for theLatin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, explaining the drug policy situation in the European Union and the current state of debate in the United Nations agenda. The commission is an initiative born of former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, from Brazil, César Gaviria, from Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo, from Mexico, to respond to concerns related to the problems of drug consumption and traffic in Latin America. The idea to constitute a commission capable of consolidating a debate concerning this problematic also responds to the necessity of reviewing the world drug policies in the scope of the United Nations, which began in March 2008.
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.
The classification of drugs has a profound impact on the lives and well-being of individuals across the world and where the classification is incorrect, people suffer unnecessarily. This is an issue that deserves greater public awareness and greater engagement with citizenry and that where such public awareness is in place it should be galvanised in order to work towards a new democratic answer to this difficult situation.
In a first analysis of the outcomes of the 2003 UNGASS mid-term review in April 2003, TNI concluded that the outcomes were very disappointing. The absence of significant progress over the past five years had not led to self-reflection and evaluation. The goals and targets of the UNGASS were simply re-affirmed. Most countries concentrated on a stock taking halfway of the implemented measures, without an honest analysis of the impact. The result is a distorted picture of virtual progress in order to justify to stay on the same course. The illusion is kept alive that reality will somehow fall into line with wishful thinking.
Foreign minister Maria Angela Holguín’s statement of last Sunday 10 October is of great importance. According to this statement, Colombia should take the discussion about the drugs policy to a global level and to the UN’s Security Council. According to her criteria it doesn’t make sense that whilst certain developed countries decriminalize and legalize certain use, we continue to “imprison peasants who own half a hectare of coca leaf cultivation”.
The 7th GIZ/TNI Asian Informal Drug Policy Dialogue was organised in collaboration with the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) of the Cambodian Government. Key issues on the agenda were recent trends in the drug market in the region and the development of effective policy responses. Specific attention went to the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Alternative Development in the Asian context, including in the implementation of alternative development programmes in conflict areas. The involvement of affected communities in policy making and project implementation was another important theme that was discussed. A major aim of the dialogue was to look at the state of the Asian drug policy before UNGASS 2016.
Researchers, research funders and policymakers should give greater voice to the risks and harms associated with particular cannabis policies and to the evaluation of alternative regulatory frameworks. Given the decades of research and experience with cannabis prohibition, it seems reasonable to reorient the cannabis policy debate based on known policy-attributable harms rather than to continue to speculate on questions of causality between cannabis use and mental illnesses such as psychosis, depression, and related disorders, that will not be definitively answered any time soon
Thailand has become the unfortunate poster child for punitive drugcontrol policies that have failed to reduce or eliminate drug use, and instead resulted in negative and damaging consequences. The willingness of the Thai Ministry of Justice to co-host the high-level seminar with IDPC and TNI shows that there are parties in Thailand concerned with the existing policies and keen to bring international experiences into the national debate.