As in years past, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) highlights the problem of HIV epidemics fuelled by injection drug use in its 2007 annual report. The phrase harm reduction is used in the report without scare quotes but the Board cannot refrain from sounding cautionary notes.
Weaknesses in the United Nations drug control system have often been identified, related to the functioning of the key organs – the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) –, related to collaboration with the wider UN system – the World Health Organistaion (WHO), UNAIDS, UN Development Programme (UNDP), etc. – and related to the outdated character of several treaty provisions.
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.
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.
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.
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna will decide next week between two opposite proposals by China and the WHO about international control of ketamine, an essential anaesthetic in human and veterinary medicine. China originally proposed bringing ketamine under the 1971 Convention’s most severe control regime of Schedule I, which would dramatically affect its availability for surgery in poor rural settings and emergency situations. The WHO Expert Committee reviewed all the evidence and advised against any international control of ketamine, arguing it would trigger a public health disaster.
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.
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.
In a letter to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) the Government of Bolivia rejects the judgments made by the independent agency of the United Nations after a visit in December 2011 and the conclusions of the Board on the decision to withdraw from the 1961 UN Single Convention and re-adhere with a reservation that would allow for the use of coca in its natural state within Bolivian territory an uphold the traditional practice of coca chewing. The Bolivian government says the INCB is overstepping its mandate. TNI publishes an unofficial translation of the original spanish version of the letter.
The US drug policy is changing, pitting states against federal law. This essay explores this inner friction of contradictory drug legislation, and what it may mean for the international drug control regime, itself a result of US drug policy. (4,400 words)
The three UN Drug Conventions of 1961, 1971 and 1988 currently impose a ‘one-size-fits-all’ prohibitionist approach to drug policy throughout the world. This new report explains in detail how the Conventions could be amended in order to give countries greater freedom to adopt drug policies better suited to their special needs.
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.
The 2012 Dutch elections were hailed as decisive for the future of the coffeeshops, where the sale of small amounts of cannabis is tolerated. The result is inconclusive. The parties in favour of restricting the coffeeshops or outright abolishing them got 77 of the 150 seats, while those against the recently introduced 'cannabis pass' and/or in favour of regulating the supply of cannabis to the coffeeshops got 73. However, the issue is not that straightforward given that in the Netherlands no single party has an absolute majority and a coalition government has to be formed.
Partial reforms have their limits. Most drug crime is not cannabis-related. Moving from punishment to harm reduction may help drug users, but it leaves gangsters in control of supplies and revenues. Many countries still stick to prohibition. The votes in Colorado and Washington were hardly imaginable ten years ago and make deeper change likely. They weaken the Single Convention, the illegal trade, and the prohibition industry that feeds on it.
Over the past years, there have been some soft and hard defections on cannabis control. It is now time to discuss alternatives that are based on facts and evidence, said Dave Bewley Taylor introducing the session. TNI worked on a report on cannabis, which is looking at the hard defections in the United States and other types of cannabis regulation that have been happening around the world. The report also discusses how cannabis was included in the UN drug control conventions.
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.
In this issue of Crime & Globalisation, Tom Blickman tracks the history of the international anti-money laundering (AML) regime. Since its origin in 1989 there is a growing awareness that the AML regime is not working as well as intended. After two decades of failed efforts, experts still ponder how to implement one that does work.
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.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) released a new short film in their excellent series on the proceedings of the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). In "Coca Leaf: The Heritage of the Andes" Felipe Cáceres, the Vice Minister of Social Defence of Bolivia is interviewed. He explains the traditional use of the coca leaf and rejects the controversial statements of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) in its 2007 annual report calling on the Bolivian and Peruvian governments to eliminate the use of coca leaf contrary to the 1961 Single Convention and to abolish coca chewing and coca tea.
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.