For more than ten years, TNI’s Drugs & Democracy programme has been studying the UN drug control conventions and the institutional architecture of the UN drug control regime. As we approach the 2016 UNGASS, this primer is a tool to better understand the role of these conventions, the scope and limits of their flexibility, the mandates they established for the CND, the INCB and the WHO, and the various options for treaty reform.
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.
Writing in 1996, Norbert Gilmore noted that ‘little has been written about drug use and human rights. Human rights are rarely mentioned expressly in drug literature and drug use is rarely mentioned in human rights literature.’  Almost twenty years later, the literature examining drug control issues through the lens of international human rights law has grown, but the total body of peer reviewed commentary and analysis in this area would barely rank the issue as a footnote in the broader human rights lexicon.
State-level cannabis reforms, which gathered steam this month, have exposed the inability of the United States to abide by the terms of the legal bedrock of the global drug control system; the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This is something that should force a much-needed conversation about reform to long- standing international agreements. But while ostensibly 'welcoming' the international drug policy reform debate, it is a conversation the US federal government actually wishes to avoid.
International tensions over Uruguay’s decision to regulate the cannabis market reached new levels when Raymond Yans, president of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), accused Uruguay of negligence with regard to public health concerns, deliberately blocking dialogue attempts and having a "pirate attitude" towards the UN conventions. President Mujica reacted angrily, declaring that someone should "tell that guy to stop lying," while Milton Romani, ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), said that Yans "should consider resigning because this is not how you treat sovereign states."
Bolivia will again belong to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs after its bid to rejoin with a reservation that it does not accept the treaty’s requirement that “coca leaf chewing must be banned” was successful Friday. Opponents needed one-third of the 184 signatory countries to object, but fell far, far short despite objections by the US and the International Narcotics Control Board.
Sweden joined the United States and the United Kingdom in objecting to the re-accession of Bolivia to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs after Bolivia had denounced the convention and asked for re-accession with a reservation that allows for the traditional age-old ancestral habit of coca chewing in the country. Italy and Canada also objected, but the objection of Sweden is particularly disturbing.
Voters in Colorado and Washington state who approved the recreational use of marijuana Tuesday sent a salvo from the ballot box that will ricochet around Latin America, a region that's faced decades of bloodshed from the U.S.-led war on drugs. Experts said the moves were likely to give momentum to countries such as Uruguay that are marching toward legalization, to undercut Mexican criminal gangs and to embolden those who demand greater debate about how to combat illegal substances.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the Beckley Foundation published a public letter calling for a new approach in drug policy. The global war on drugs has failed, and has had many unintended and devastating consequences worldwide. Signed by a group of 60 major thinkers, Nobel Prize winners and celebrities including Sting, Yoko Ono and seven former presidents, this letter calls on members of the public and of Parliament to recognize that "improving our drug policies is one of the key policy challenges of our time."
Bolivia has denounced the International Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which bans the traditional practice of chewing coca leaf. Adam talks with Martin Jelsma, who coordinates the Drugs and Democracy Program at the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute.
The Bolivian government formally notified the UN Secretary General of its withdrawal from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (as amended by the 1972 Protocol) yesterday. The withdrawal will enter into effect on 1 January 2012. At that time, Bolivia will re-accede to the Convention with a reservation on the coca leaf and its traditional uses.
The UN's International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) 2009 annual report criticizes Argentina, Brazil and Mexico for moving to decriminalize the possession of drugs for personal consumption, cautioning that such moves may "send the wrong message." According to the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the criticisms overstep the INCB's mandate and constitute unwarranted intrusions into these countries' sovereign decision-making.
When we think of people like Pope Paul VI, the Queen of Spain or Britain’s Princess Anne, most of us do not think of them as criminals. But that is what they are, under the current international drug law. Their crime? They all sipped coca tea on their arrival to the Bolivian capital La Paz.
A similar version was published as an OpEd in El Tiempo, June 26, 2009
See also: Coca Myths, Drugs & Conflict Debate Papers 17, June 2009
As the United Nations launches the 2009 World Drug Report this week, more than 40 international groups and experts worldwide today issued a call to action that presses governments to adopt a humane approach to drug policy.
The call to action, signed by the Transnational Institute (TNI), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, former president of Brazil Fernando Cardoso, and others, urges governments to enact policies that are based on scientific and medical research rather than politics.
On Monday the 18th, at the UN-ECOSOC session in New York, elections took place for six members of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). The Board consists of only 13 members, so almost half of this UN body was up for election. Taking a look at the INCB-section on our website quickly reveals our troubled history with this ‘quasi-judicial’ and supposedly independent body that monitors compliance with the UN drug control treaties.
The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, wrote a letter to the delegates negotiating the Political Declaration for the 52nd session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna on March 11-12, 2009, dedicated to review of the progress achieved and the difficulties encountered by in meeting the goals and targets set out in the 1998 UNGASS.
The review of the objectives and action plans agreed at the 1998 UNGASS on Drugs has reached a critical stage. Following the thematic debate at the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and the five expert working groups held in Vienna over the summer, the attention now moves to the political process of negotiating the text of a political declaration to be agreed at the high level meeting in March 2009.