State-level cannabis reforms have exposed the inability of the United States to abide by the terms of the legal bedrock of the global drug control system. It is calls for a conversation the US federal government wishes to avoid. The result is a new official position on the UN drugs treaties that, despite its seductively progressive tone, serves only to sustain the status quo and may cause damage beyond drug policy.
In the United States the discussion on the pros and cons of regulating cannabis is well advanced. The national television news programme CNBC has dedicated a website, Marijuana & Money, to the issue. “Many Americans support legalization and many states already permit medical use,” the site says. “An end to prohibition would generate billions in tax revenue and relieve the criminal justice system. But is it the right thing to do?”
In "Has the time come to legalize drugs?" Andres Oppenheimer, the influential opinion maker about Latin American affairs at the Miami Herald, describes how the debate about cannabis regulation "is rapidly moving to the mainstream in Latin America." He quotes White House drug czar Kerlikowske who argues that The Netherlands proves that relaxation of cannabis laws increases consumption, and that the Dutch government is now reversing its strategy. That requires some rectification.
“Democracy is the worst form of government,” as Churchill once put it, “except all those other forms that have been tried.” Whatever else it should include, it’s hard to imagine democracy without regular, free and fair elections that express the majority’s preferences.
The world will be watching as Californians go to the polls on Tuesday and vote on Proposition 19, which would legalize and regulate marijuana in that state. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, however, it has already sparked an intense international debate, particularly in Latin America where the U.S. has long waged its “war on drugs.” Drug war critics and even some who have supported the U.S. approach to date are asking how the U.S. government can continue to call on Latin American governments to implement harsh drug control policies when at least some of those policies are being called into question in the United States itself.
The California ballot initiative that would have legalized marijuana under state law was defeated at the polls Tuesday, garnering about 46 percent of the vote. Over the course of the campaign, the measure achieved notoriety in Latin America , and provoked anxiety on the part of the Colombian and Mexican governments in particular. WOLA has long promoted more effective and humane drug policies in the Americas, and in recent years we have seen the debate begin to open, not least in response to Prop 19. So what does Prop 19's defeat foretell for the debate over alternatives to marijuana prohibition?
An interesting blog on Calitics, a leading progressive community blog for California politics:
California voters came out in droves to support Proposition 19 this November. More than 4.1 million people voted for Prop. 19, which would have allowed adults 21 and older to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for personal use and allow cities and counties to tax and regulate commercial sales.
Decriminalizing cannabis in the Netherlands and regulating the back-door of the coffee-shops and cultivation of cannabis would save 160 million euro on expenses by the police and the criminal justice system and bring in 260 million euro in tax revenues. The Dutch government is already earning some 400 million euros a year in corporate taxes from cannabis-selling coffee-shops.
The municipality of the Dutch city of Utrecht recently announced two scientific experiments on cannabis policy. One experiment will be to set up a closed club model for adult recreational cannabis users. Cannabis smokers will grow their own marijuana in a cooperative, a move which would go against the government's drive to discourage coffee shops. The other experiment concerns treatment for people who are vulnerable to psychotic disorders.
In his speech to the NGO forum at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on Wednesday 12 March, Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), emphasized that he doesn’t need NGOs as "silent partners" and called for challenging his views. However, when someone did challenge him he refused to answer the question.
An interesting essay discussing the case for decriminalization of cannabis use appeared in the March 2008 issue of Current Opinion in Psychiatry. The Dutch psychiatrist Wim van den Brink of the Amsterdam Institute for Addiction Research carefully weighs the currently available evidence regarding advantages and risks of such a policy change.
Antonio Costa, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and Frederick Polak, a Dutch psychiatrist have been engaged in an interesting (and worldwide) debate about Dutch cannabis policy. Polak challenges Costa to answer the question why cannabis use in the Netherlands is lower than in many neighbouring countries despite the free availability of cannabis in coffee shops for adults over 18 years. After a recent visit to Amsterdam, Costa is claiming that cannabis use in that city is three times higher than anywhere else in Europe. Is this true?
The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Costa, recently visited Amsterdam on 24 April. Accompanied by some officials of the Netherlands Ministry of Health and of the City of Amsterdam and UNODC staff, he dropped in on the coffeeshop De Dampkring (the Atmosphere) and a user room (for inhalation and injection of heroin and cocaine). He wrote his personal account for his blog Costa’s corner but it was never published. Apparently it proved to be too controversial with his Dutch host. It now has popped up on the Transform drug policy blog and the ENCOD website.
In Australia a vicious debate on cannabis policy started when Alex Wodak, the head of the Sydney drug and alcohol clinic at St Vincent's Hospital, suggested that marijuana be regulated like alcohol or tobacco. He proposed to sell cannabis legally in post offices in packets that warn against its effects.
On October 2, 2008, the Beckley Foundation launched in the House of Lords its Global Cannabis Commission Report, an authoritative guide to the effects of cannabis, the policies that control its use, and recommendations for policy reform. A team of leading drug policy analysts prepared an overview of the latest scientific evidence surrounding cannabis and the policies that control its use.
The Hungarian Civil Liberty Union (HCLU) produced a video on the debate on cannabis policy and the tolerated sale of small quantities of cannabis by coffee shops in the Netherlands. The debate fired up when the mayors of Bergen op Zoom and Roosendaal, two towns near the Belgian border, decided to close their coffee shops.
Smoking without Borders An HCLU film about drug tourism in the Netherlands: is it really only the problem of the Dutch?
The Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy presented its conclusions at a press conference in Rio de Janeiro, on 11 February. Founded by former Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), César Gaviria (Colombia) and Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico), integrated by 17 independent members, the Commission assessed the limits and unwanted effects of the repressive policies of the "war on drugs" in Latin America.
The last of the four ‘round tables’ of the high-level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs was devoted to the broad issue of Countering illicit drug traffic and supply, and alternative development. TNI had been nominated by the Vienna NGO Committee to give a statement on the issue of Alternative Development (AD), being one of the few member NGOs with a track record on this issue and having actively participated in the Beyond 2008 initiative, including the negotiations at the July NGO forum to reach consensus on the text of a paragraph on AD in the final declaration. This is our impression of the event.
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.
Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the desired results. We are further than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs.
Breaking the taboo, acknowledging the failure of current policies and their consequences is the inescapable prerequisite for the discussion of a new paradigm leading to safer, more efficient and humane drug policies.