UN member states are currently in the process of hammering out a ‘Joint Ministerial Statement’ for the upcoming High Level Review of the world drug response – at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in March. At the most recent ‘inter-sessional meeting’, exasperated delegates of all ideological persuasions repeated variations of the refrain “we’ve already done this…this language is in the Political Declaration…we debated this last year…this paragraph was already settled by consensus.”
Legalisation of cannabis is making slow but unstoppable progress across much of the developed world, many experts believe, following the end of prohibition in two US states. In Amsterdam, long famous for its coffee shops, international experts gathering to discuss cannabis regulation said the international conventions, once so heavily policed by the US, would now be increasingly flouted. Already many countries, most notably the Netherlands and Spain, have bypassed the rules.
Bolivia's government has informed the United Nations it is renouncing the world body's anti-drug convention because it classifies coca leaf as an illegal drug, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday. Bolivia's decision comes after a proposal by President Evo Morales to remove language obliging countries that have signed the convention to ban the chewing of coca leaves was rejected following U.S. objections.
The Uruguayan government has made a controversial move to regulate the production and sale of cannabis, believing that this will help in the fight against drug-related crime and in dealing with public health issues. The move has been condemned by the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), whose president Raymond Yans accused the government of having a "pirate attitude" for going against the UN’s conventions on drugs. Diego Cánepa, secretary of the office of Uruguayan President, believes a regulated marijuana market was the right decision.
The UN's top narcotics official said on Wednesday that recent votes by US states to legalize marijuana have put America in deeper violation of the international conventions that guide drug policy around the world. Earlier this month, voters in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC legalized the recreational use and sale of marijuana. Similar ballot initiatives have already passed and taken effect in Colorado and Washington.
Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield called for "flexible" interpretations of international drug control treaties at the United Nations in New York City, citing marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington.
In a press conference at the United Nations in New York on October 9, US official William Brownfield laid the groundwork for a new US approach to international drug policy, pointing to the changing political landscape on drug regulation in the Americas.
If you actually read the treaties, while they do set firm limitations on the legal, "non-medical" or "non-scientific" sale of schedule drugs — limits that Uruguay, Colorado and Washington ignored when legalizing cannabis — they don’t otherwise obligate countries to penalize drug use. Even the 1988 convention, the harshest of the three, which instructs countries to criminalize use, still provides an out for states, allowing such laws only as they are "subject to its constitutional principles and the basic concepts of its legal system." This loophole has been used by the Dutch to argue legally for their coffee shops.
The extent to which the ongoing drug-control reforms across the Americas are pushing the boundaries of the global legal framework laid down in three UN drug-control conventions has become a delicate issue. The decriminalization of possession for personal use in several Latin American countries and the establishment of a supervised injection room in Vancouver, Canada have already triggered protracted legal disputes with the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the quasi-judicial organ for the conventions’ implementation.
The war on drugs is edging towards a truce. Half of Americans want to lift the ban on cannabis. America’s change of heart has led many to wonder if the UN conventions might be reformed to legalise some drugs and treat the use of others as a problem requiring health measures, not criminal or military ones. But as America has drawn back from prohibition, new drug warriors are stepping up to defend it. Russia is foremost among them. “The Russians have taken over the hard-line role that the US used to play,” says Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute.
This week both the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna and the UN General Assembly 3rd Committee in New York discuss new drug control resolutions related to upcoming reviews of global drug policy. The high-level CND review in March 2014 and the Special Session of the General Assembly (UNGASS) on drugs in 2016 provide opportunities to change course and to ensure drug policy fully respects human rights.
The Secretary General of the OAS highlighted the assignment received during the Sixth Summit of the Americas in 2012, which urged the OAS to analyze the results of drug policies in the Americas and to explore new approaches to strengthen these efforts and make them more effective. The Foreign Minister of Guatemala emphasized that, 50 years after signing the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, "the world starts the task of reflection and evaluation of what we have been doing and how we can achieve more effective results."
Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala delivered a landmark declaration to the United Nations Secretary General calling on the organization to lead a debate on alternative approaches to the current war on drugs, though it is likely to fall on deaf ears. The statement, issued to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on October 1, contains 11 points outlining the three countries’ views on the current state of organized crime and counternarcotics policy in the Americas (see declaration in English here, and in Spanish here).