With the 2016 UNGASS on drugs in one year, it is time to recognize the policy landscape is shifting while tensions within the UN drug control system continue to grow. A slowly increasing number of governments is expressing their frustrations with the current international drug control framework, particularly Mexico and Colombia, countries that are suffering from violence related to drug markets, are calling for reflection and analysis in order to consider new options, some of which include regulatory measures.
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.
The UN Commission considers to bring ketamine under the control of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances contrary to WHO recommendations. The 58th Session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in March 2015 has been asked to consider a Chinese proposal to place ketamine – an essential medicine used for anaesthesia – in Schedule I of the 1971 Convention (E/CN.7/2015/7 and E/CN.7/2015/81). Ketamine is the only available anaesthetic for essential surgery in most rural areas of developing countries, home to more than 2 billion of the world’s people. Scheduling ketamine under any of the 1971 treaty schedules will reduce its availability and further deepen the already acute crisis of global surgery.
The most important drug policy event this quarter was undoubtedly the 57th Session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna from 13 to 21 March, the first two days of which were dedicated to a high-level review of the past five years. The winds of drug policy change were clearly felt in the statements made by several Latin American countries – Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay – and some European countries – the Czech Republic, Norway and Switzerland, among others.
Ahead of the High-Level Segment on the world drug problem to take place on 13th and 14th January 2014, the UNODC Executive Director, Yuri Fedotov, has released his "contributions" to the debate. This 19-page document is, in parts, refreshingly honest about the “unequal” progress that has been made since 2009 (with reductions in supply or demand for some drugs in some places being offset by increases elsewhere), the setbacks and new challenges, and the fact that “the overall magnitude of drug demand has not substantially changed at the global level”.
An internal United Nations draft document leaked last weekend has offered outsiders a rare look at longstanding disagreements between member states over the course of U.N. drug policy. The document, first publicised by The Guardian and obtained by IPS, contains over 100 specific policy recommendations and proposals from member states, many at odds with the status quo on illicit drug eradication and prohibition.
Change is in the air ... But the pace could be quickened a bit. While the international policymaking body on drugs has long been stuck in neutral, there are signs that alternative voices are finally breaking through. This year's UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs featured some progress though its modest advances are only remarkable by comparison to a dismal past.
Marco Perduca and Donatella Poretti, senators of the Radical Party have asked the Italian under-secretary on drug issues, Carlo Giovanardi, if it is true that Italy has abandoned the common position of the European Union on harm reduction in the negotiations for the Political Declaration for the High-level Segment of the 52nd Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna. They requested an explanation from the under-secretary why and on what grounds this happened.
“We will be aiming for no less than securing the inclusion of harm reduction in the political declaration by which member states determine international drugs policy,” the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation Bert Koenders told the Donor Conference on Harm Reduction that took place on January 28-30, 2009, in Amsterdam. “We will do the same when, in 2010, the honour of chairing the UNAIDS governing board falls to the Netherlands. You can count on that.”
The US delegation in Vienna continues to block any inclusion of harm reduction in the new Political Declaration – to be approved in March 2009 at the high-level segment of the 52nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Three members of the US Congress have written a letter to the new US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, to call for new instructions to be given to the delegation.
Allan Clear of the Harm Reduction Coalition made an urgent appeal on the Obama White House to intervene in the current negotiations about the Political Declaration on the 1998 UNGASS review that has to be adopted in March 2009 at the High Level Segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). For more than two million people living with HIV, mainly in Africa, hopes are high for a change in Obama's foreign policy.
It is still not clear what the drug policy of President Obama will be. He has not appointed his drug czar. Many high-ranking Bush Administration officials have yet to leave office and are still setting the agenda on drug policy.
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.