Drug policy reform is currently higher on the international agenda than it has been in recent memory. With a United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs set for 19-21 April 2016, the prominence of this issue will further increase. Significant legal and policy reforms at the national level have taken place in recent years that pose considerable challenges to the international legal framework for drug control, and beg important questions regarding states’ international legal obligations.
How does national legislation in different EU member states compare and how effective is the adding of new psychoactive substances (NPS) to the existing schedules of drug laws versus legislative experimentation designing new schedules or applying controls under medicines or consumer protection regulations?
In July 2013 TNI and Paung Ku organised the First Southeast Asia Opium Farmers Forum, bringing together some 30 representatives of local communities involved in opium cultivation and local community workers from the major opium growing regions in Southeast Asia: Chin, Kachin, northern and southern Shan, and Kayah States in Burma/Myanmar and Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India.
The Transnational Institute (TNI) organized an expert seminar on Costs and Benefits of Cannabis Regulation Models in Europe in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on October 31/November 1, 2013. The objective of the seminar was to identify and map existing and possible future cannabis regulation models in Europe, looking at the local, provincial and national levels and the potential impact of such models on the illicit cannabis market.
The expert seminar “Where next for Europe on drug policy reform?” analysed the new EU strategy on drugs and its action plan and discussed ways to improve and innovate European drug policy. The seminar comprised of four major sessions : the EU Drugs Strategy and Action Plan and its public health implications; the EU Drugs Strategy and Action Plan and its law enforcement implications; regional challenges and the issue of new psychoactive substances; the role of Europe in global drug policy and the European voice in preparation for the 2016 UNGASS. This report also contains the key note speech presented by the former President of Portugal, Jorge Sampaio.
The expert seminar “Innovative cocaine and poly drug abuse prevention programme”, organized by the Forum Droghe, took place in Florence, gathering over 30 people, mainly drug addiction professionals (clinicians or working in harm reduction programs); academics, researchers, NGO representatives. The seminar was introduced by a public presentation of the project, addressed to local and regional policy makers, Italian press and drug professionals from the whole region, in addition to foreign and Italian participants to the seminar. The general aim was to identify the main features of an innovative model of intervention, gathering suggestions from research on “controls” over drug use.
As the debate on drug policy and law reform gathers momentum on the international stage, the failings of the three UN drug control conventions (1961, 1971 and 1988) have come into stark relief. Criticisms of the global drug control regime established by the drug treaties have now entered the mainstream public discourse and political debate. The discussions around treaty reform that would allow or facilitate a wider spectrum of approaches to drugs are assuming a degree of urgency.
A grey area has emerged between what is legal and what is not as states struggle with how to respond to the many new synthetic compounds emerging onto the market. Of the various types of ‘Legal highs’ the seminar focused on stimulants because of the parallels with the other main drug-policy issue of the moment; i.e. the status of traditional herbal stimulants. These older discussions have been reinvigorated by: Bolivia’s efforts to de-schedule coca-leaf at UN level; the debates on the status of khat between EU States, and of kratom across Asia; and the increasing stride of legitimate cannabis use on the domestic front, as in for example Spain.
There has in recent years been a renewed interest in the principle of proportionality in sentencing policy for drug offences. There has been official analysis of the issue by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and several national initiatives that have inscribed a requirement for proportionality when sentencing in statute or penal code, asserted it through the courts, or, as with the UK Consultation on sentencing for drug offences by the Sentencing Council of England and Wales, are continuing to explore the concept through policy processes.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Transnational Institute (TNI) invited a group of 20 experts for a round-table discussion at the WOLA office in Washington DC . The main question on the table: can the concept of “harm reduction” be applied to supply-oriented challenges to better address the harms associated with illicit drug production and distribution, but also minimize the harms that stem from drug control itself?
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.
This report captures the main outcomes from an informal expert seminar on harm reduction in relation to the rising problems with the use of Amphetamine Type Stimulants (ATS) in Southeast and East Asia, organized by the Transnational Institute, with the support of the Western Australian Substance Users Association (WASUA). The aim of the meeting was to have an open-minded exchange of opinions and experiences about the situation in Myanmar, Thailand, and Yunnan Province (China).
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.