Preparations are gathering pace for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs, to be held on the 19th to 21st April 2016 in New York. Following several months of discussion on procedural elements, attention is now focused on negotiating the content of the "short, substantive, concise and action-orientated outcome document comprising a set of operational recommendations" to be approved by the General Assembly next April. At the CND intersessional meeting on 12th June, countries and regional groups were invited to submit their first ideas for what could be included in this Outcome Document, by a deadline of 11th September.
Ecuador has entered a new era in drug policy and legislation. Twenty-five years after the last major legal reform, brought about by the famed Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Law (Ley de Sustancias Estupefacientes y Psicotrópicas, Law 108), which took effect on September 17, 1990, the National Assembly is about to debate—for the second and final time—the draft Law on Prevention of Drugs and Use or Consumption of Substances Classified as Subject to Oversight (Ley de Prevención de Drogas y Uso y Consumo de Sustancias Catalogadas Sujetas a Fiscalización.)
Luxembourg's Parliament is to debate the decriminalisation of consumption of cannabis, the health minister said while outlining a new drug prevention programme. The minister said she hoped to raise awareness among young people of the risks surrounding cannabis consumption as well as the use of other, legal drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco.
The upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) in 2016 is an unprecedented opportunity to review and re-direct national drug control policies and the future of the global drug control regime. As diplomats sit down to rethink international and domestic drug policy, they would do well to recall the mandate of the United Nations, not least to ensure security, human rights and development.
Canada's war on drugs has caused serious harm, particularly for the nation's most vulnerable, according to a Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) policy paper. The report, A New Approach to Managing Psychoactive Substances, calls for the decriminalization of drugs such as marijuana, heroin and cocaine, as well as strategies to reduce harm and address the social conditions underlying problem substance use.
Building on a long history and culture of tolerance, the Dutch responded to illicit drugs with decades of pragmatic measures free of judgment. A central element of modern Dutch drug policy was a crucial decision to establish a legal and practical separation of cannabis—judged to pose "acceptable" risks to consumers and society—from hard drugs associated with unacceptable risk. This policy effectively decriminalized possession and use of cannabis and opened the door for tolerated outlets for small-scale cannabis sales that eventually took the form of the well-known Dutch "coffee shops."
The personal use of illegal drugs, including heroin and crack cocaine, should be decriminalized as part of a federal-provincial strategy to tackle drug abuse, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition argues. Their report, Getting To Tomorrow, denounces the Harper government’s aggressive war on drugs, which puts the emphasis on law enforcement while steering money away from harm-reduction initiatives like Vancouver’s supervised injection site. (See also: Call to legalize 'hard' drugs meets opposition)
The Home Affairs Select Committee in the United Kingdom report on drug policy draws on lessons from Portugal’s decriminalisation of drug possession and puts forward a case for the UK reconsidering its own policies. Alex Stevens assesses the situation in Portugal, noting that while decriminalisation has coincided with a fall in the most problematic forms of drug use, it is not the only factor. (See also: Portugal: Ten Years After Decriminalization)
In September 2012, the mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, launched the first centre for drug addicts in the Bronx, a marginalised city-centre neighbourhood. Called the Medical Care Centre for Dependent Drug Users (Centro de Atención Médica a Drogodependientes - CAMAD), it is staffed by psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors and nurses. The people given care in these centres are in an at-risk situation and socially excluded due to their high levels of drug dependency.
There is no reliable evidence that tougher criminal sanctions deter drug use or offending. On the contrary, criminalisation worsens the health and wellbeing of drug users, increases risk behaviours, drives the spread of HIV, encourages other crime and discourages drug users from seeking treatment. A report by Australia21, Alternatives to Prohibition, subtitled Illicit drugs: how we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians, sets out the lessons learnt about the failed war on drugs from other countries, especially Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Portugal.
Portugal's famously liberal drug policy has been held up as a model for other countries - Norway is considering adopting parts of it and countries as far afield as Argentina have expressed interest. But experts warn that budget cuts and the threat of more cuts to come - combined with an increase in hard drug abuse - risk turning it into a shadow of its former self. "We have a certain responsibility to maintain the essential despite the recession," said Joao Goulao, the national drugs agency chief. "Other countries do look at us and seek our expertise."
Portugal’s anti-drug policies have been gaining international visibility since this country's 2001 decision to eliminate all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs. Decriminalisation of drug consumption, still opposed by political sectors like the right, was made possible by “favourable public opinion…it arose from society,” where virtually every family had a member or friend with a drug abuse problem, says João Goulão president of this country’s Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction.
There is nothing politically easier in most countries than scapegoating drugs and drug users as the source of all social problems. Politicians can expect a boost in their popularity when they support repressive measures against drugs and are dismissive of public services for people who use illicit drugs.
In the year 2000, as the president of Poland, I signed one of Europe’s most conservative laws on drug possession. Any amount of illicit substances a person possessed meant they were eligible for up to three years in prison. Our hope was that this would help to liberate Poland, and especially its youths, from drugs that not only have a potential to ruin the lives of the people who abuse them but also have been propelling the spread of HIV among people who inject them. We were mistaken on both of our assumptions.
The loudest voices in US drug policy debates call either for enforcing prohibition with ever-increasing ferocity or for giving up altogether by letting corporations legally sell the currently illicit drugs much as they do tobacco and alcohol. But as our colleagues and we detail this week in the Lancet, there is an alternative: adopting drug policies with scientific evidence of effectiveness. Regardless of what goals for drug policy emerge from the democratic process, everyone wants the policies implemented in the service of those goals to be effective.
Fifty years after signing the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and 40 years after the U.S. government declared a "war on drugs," many obstacles remain despite the partial successes of efforts to counter the problem. The Andean-United States Dialogue Forum, noted with concern how drug policy has monopolized the diplomatic and economic agenda between the Andean countries, contributing to tensions among the governments and impeding cooperation on other crucial priorities, such as safeguarding democratic processes from criminal networks.
TNI has been closely involved with the Global Commission on Drug Policy which presented its report in New York on June 2. Some years ago we published a report, entitled Cracks in the Vienna Consensus in which we argued that cracks were appearing in the supposedly universal model under the UN treaty system. In reality, the global system is based on a highly fragile consensus of Vienna, where the UN drug control system is headquartered, and the painstaking negotiations every year to keep up the appearance of unity have become the symbol of paralysis and frustration.
The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.