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)
Some have hailed the Obama administration’s 2012 National Drug Control Strategy as a revolutionary shift toward a public health approach to the nation’s drug problems. Others have panned it as nothing new. There are actually advances to applaud in the new strategy and budget, in terms of both rhetoric and substance. Those positive steps should be acknowledged. But the extent to which the 2012 strategy represents a break from the past should not overstated.
By combining drug treatment with ongoing judicial supervision, drug courts seek to break the cycle of addiction, crime, and repeat incarceration. While practice varies widely from state to state (and county to county), the outlines of the drug court model are clear: addicted offenders are linked to treatment; their progress is monitored by a drug court team composed of the judge, attorneys, and program staff; participants engage in direct interaction with the judge, who responds to progress and setbacks with a range of rewards and sanctions; and successful participants generally have the charges against them dismissed or reduced, while those who fail receive jail or prison sentences.
In July 1989, the leaders of the economic powers assembled at the G7 Paris summit decided to establish a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to counter money laundering as an effective strategy against drug trafficking by criminal ‘cartels’. However, since the inception of the international anti-money laundering (AML) regime there is a growing awareness that the regime is not working as well as intended.
Two years ago, California’s bid to legalize marijuana—Proposition 19—achieved great notoriety in Latin America, but ultimately fell short at the ballot box. Next Tuesday, voters in the state of Washington appear ready to do what Prop 19’s supporters could not quite achieve—an Election Day victory.
The following notes are summaries of the EU Horizontal Working Party on Drugs discussions about Bolivia’s coca amendment and denunciation of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, taken from the reports of their meetings since September 2010.
Emily Crick, Heather J. Haase, David Bewley-Taylor
14 November 2013
In November 2012, voters in two US states – Washington and Colorado – approved ballot initiatives to establish legally regulated markets for the production, sale, use and taxation of cannabis (commonly referred to in the US as marijuana). This is the first time anywhere in the world that the recreational use of the drug will be legally regulated – the wellknown coffee shop system in the Netherlands is merely tolerated rather than enshrined in law. Needless to say, with implications both within and beyond US borders, the drug policy community is watching Colorado and Washington closely.
At the root of the drug policy debate in Latin America is growing recognition that present policies have failed to achieve the desired objectives, the extremely high costs of implementing those policies paid by Latin American countries, and the need to place higher priority on reducing unacceptably high levels of violence. Of particular concern is the spread of organized crime and the resulting violence, corruption and erosion of democratic institutions.
Present international drug control policies are deeply-rooted and change will no doubt come slowly. However, as a result of the Cartagena summit, for the first time a meaningful debate on developing and implementing drug control policies that are more humane and effective is underway. The genie is out and will be very hard to put back in the bottle, as much as U.S. officials might try.
The dynamics of reform in the Americas continues. This time, the momentum comes from the Caribbean region. Jamaica and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states are now moving to change their marijuana laws. Among the proposed changes discussed in Jamaica were the decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of ganja for recreational and religious use and cultivating it for medicinal purposes.
The growing realization that we and our neighbors in the Americas are not well-served by the status quo U.S. policies presents the opportunity to re-examine old premises and modernize our goals and strategies. Better to make real progress in reducing drug-related harms than to persist with policies that have failed to meet their own basic goals even as they have generated immense collateral damage.
My point in reviewing the experience with forced eradication is that a stiff dose of historical perspective is in order as policy makers contemplate the scope of the drug trade today, and engage in a critical examination of how to improve U.S. drug policies.
In Latin America, monitoring U.S. assistance means monitoring U.S. counter-drug programs. We’ve found that in the ten years between 2000 and 2009, the United States gave Latin America and the Caribbean about $20.8 billion in assistance, both military and economic aid. Of that amount, fully $9.9 billion — 48 percent — went through counternarcotics accounts in the State and Defense department budgets. Of the $9.2 billion in military and police aid during this 10-year-period, $7.8 billion — 85 percent — was paid for by counternarcotics programs.
Since the 1912 signing of the Hague Opium Convention—the agreement that formally established narcotics control within international law—the United States has established itself as the dominant actor in determining drug control policies around the world. A chief architect of the international drug control regime, Washington has done its best to ensure that all subsequent international conventions obligate countries to adapt their domestic legislation to criminalize virtually all acts related to the illicit market in controlled substances, with the important exception of drug consumption. The predominant focus on prohibition and criminalization has been exported to Latin America, where the vast majority of the cocaine and heroin consumed in the United States originates.
In 1995 the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) announced in a press release the publication of the results of the largest global study on cocaine use ever undertaken. A decision in the World Health Assembly banned the publication of the study. The US representative threatened that "if WHO activities relating to drugs failed to reinforce proven drug control approaches, funds for the relevant programmes should be curtailed". This led to the decision to discontinue publication.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) traveled to California and attended the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in LA to find out what are the latest development of the battle for legal marijuana in the US. We interviewed activists from several organizations, asked questions about the chances of state level ballot initiatives, we even saw how people will use cannabis in the 21st Century. Welcome to the future of US marijuana regulation - please watch and share HCLU's new movie.
In 2012, voters in the US states of Washington, Colorado and Oregon were given the opportunity to vote in ballot initiatives for the creation of legally regulated cannabis markets. Washington’s Initiative 502 and Colorado’s Amendment 64 both passed with 55.7% and 55.3% of the vote respectively. Oregon’s Measure 80 failed with 53.4% of those voting rejecting the measure. As calls for and legal processes towards the initiation of cannabis policy reform become more common within US states, it is a timely and useful exercise to reflect upon the campaigns for reform in Washington (WA), Colorado (CO) and Oregon (OR) and examine why the public supported cannabis policy reform in some instances and not others.
Drug Courts are Not the Answer finds that drug courts are an ineffective and inappropriate response to drug law violations. Many, all the way up to the Obama administration, consider the continued proliferation of drug courts to be a viable solution to the problem of mass arrests and incarceration of people who use drugs. Yet this report finds that drug courts do not reduce incarceration, do not improve public safety, and do not save money when compared to the wholly punitive model they seek to replace. The report calls for reducing the role of the criminal justice system in responding to drug use by expanding demonstrated health approaches, including harm reduction and drug treatment, and by working toward the removal of criminal penalties for drug use.
The report reviews 20 years of data from US government funded surveillance systems on government drug control spending, cannabis seizures and cannabis arrests, in order to assess the impact of enforced cannabis prohibition on cannabis potency, price and availability. The report’s findings highlight the clear failure of cannabis prohibition efforts by showing that as the United States has dramatically scaled up drug law enforcement, cannabis potency has nevertheless increased, prices have dropped, and cannabis remains widely available.