- A synthesis of three papers on the UN's and the US's roles in establishing and maintaining a world-wide policy of prohibition against the sale and use of narcotic and psycotropic drugs.
- A brief summary of the recommendations of the 2009 UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.
- The Executive Director's Preface to the UN World Drug Report 2009.
- Breaking the Impasse: (2003)(a two-part paper)
Polarisation & Paralysis in UN Drug Control By: Martin Jelsma, Co-ordinator, Transnational Institute Drugs & Democracy Programme
- Habits of a Hegemon: The United States and the Future of the Global drug Prohibition Regime , By: David Bewley-Taylor, lecturer at the Department of American Studies of the University of Wales Swansea, UK; he is the author of The United States and Internation-al Drug Control, 1909-1997, Continuum, London, 2001
- The UN Drug Control Debate: Current Dilemmas and Prospects for 2008
Presented at the 48th ICAA Conference on Dependencies, Science, Politics and the Practitioners
Budapest, 24 October 2005
The Foundations: UN Drug Control Conventions
- The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol,
- The Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971
- The United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988
Policy Review Process:
In 1998 a United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) was held to evaluate the effectiveness of the current repressive drug control regime. Mexico was the country that originally called for the 1998 UNGASS, aspiring to convene a forum for in-depth evaluation of global drug control policy. During the preparatory phase at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), an annual council of UN member nations, however, the effort at evaluation backfired and the UNGASS was reoriented towards an affirmation of prohibitionism, despite the obvious failure of current drug control policies. The General Assembly, in their consequent political declaration, gave the UN International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) the mandate "...to develop strategies with a view to eliminating or significantly reducing the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant and the opium poppy by the year 2008".
Two Paradigms: Zero Tolerance & Prohibition vs. Harm Reduction
- Those who believe in the possibility of a drug-free world and for whom zero-tolerance towards illicit drugs can be the only answer, using prohibition and more repressive means. Among the fervent defenders of the prohibitionist regime considerable differences exist as to the cultural and political roots of their zero-tolerance position.
- The United States is the principle force promoting a global prohibitionist regime, having a zero-tolerance position rooted in Christian fundamentalism and an aspiration to world leadership, leading it to blur the drugs issue with other foreign policy and security agendas.
- Sweden is primarily rooted in a social democratic tradition where the state is supposed to protect its citizenry against any threat perceived to undermine the fabric of society.
- In predominantly Moslem countries, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the accompanying strong religious laws against any drugs, including alcohol, has resulted in stronger opposition from those states to any deviation from zero-tolerance within the CND.
- Several African cannabis-producing countries are taking strong positions because they aspire to be included in special preferential trade mechanisms and developmental aid schemes tied to drug control objectives already in place for several Latin American (such as Columbia, Mexico) and Asian countries.
- Those who favor harm reduction, trying to find the most pragmatic and humane ways to (mitigate) the reality of continuing drug use and a supply market that has proven to be resistant to policy interventions. Its centre of gravity is in Europe. Harm Reduction has now become the basis for a rational and pragmatic drug policy in almost every European Union country, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Brazil. Decriminalisation of consumption, leniency in law enforcement towards cannabis and towards possession of other drugs for personal use, and needle exchange programmes are commonplace nowadays. The more controversial steps further along the path of leniency, like the 'coffee shops', heroin maintenance programmes, XTC testing, etc, have received acceptance beyond the pioneer countries, Switzerland and the Nether-lands, and are under consideration or in preparation in several other countries. Europe has advanced rapidly on these issues. In several countries, debates are now taking place that openly question the wisdom of prohibition of cannabis products and open up the discussion to look at legal models for the regulation of that illicit market.
Recognition of the Failure of Past "Zero Tolerance"Efforts
- Zero tolerance advocates maintain that the 'medicine' has not worked (because) not enough has been applied and that the logical response should be to apply a stronger dose: re-affirm political commitment, oppose any tolerance, close ranks behind a 'get-serious' approach, set deadlines and don't be afraid to dirty your hands to achieve concrete results, "A drug free world - We can do it!" (The slogan of the 1998 UNGASS)
- Harm reduction advocates conclude that this recognition should lead to a global evaluation: re-assessment of the applied principles, opening of the debate, more space for experimentation with other approaches and a focus on more realistic aims in terms of reducing drug-related harms.
The (declining) numbers of zero-tolerance proponents, in view of the failure to... realize their dream of a drug-free world, tend to become more aggressive in their methods, resorting to radical approaches to production (spraying crops, military eradication units, opium bans etc), merging the fight against drugs, crime and terror, and introducing radical measures to curb drug use such as mass incarceration and random drug testing.
- Convincing politicians of the need for huge investments in development and health care which will only gradually and slowly reduce drug-related problems. (Politicians) tend to prefer the illusion of quick-impact measures and prefer to talk in terms of 'solutions' for problems rather than managing or containing them.
- Finding room to manoeuvre for pragmatic policy trends and experiments in harm reduction, which is limited by legal obstacles in national legislation or in international treaties (UN conventions), obstacles that are not easily removed. (Editor's note: US law and regulation dictates, "The Director of National Drug Control Policy shall ensure that: no Federal funds appropriated to the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812) and take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance (in any form) that-(A) is listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812); and(B) has not been approved for use for medical purposes by the Food and Drug Administration;"
Paralysis at the UN
- The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (which is the operating Secretariat for UN drug policy) has actively promoted the re-affirm discourse, suffocating attempts to open up the debate, censoring critical remarks in its own publications, trumpeting doubtful success stories, and punishing dissenting views among its staff.
- The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has maintained a very strict interpretation of the UN conventions and regularly appears to overstep its limited mandate by passing judgement on sovereign states whose policies take a slightly different direction and exercising pressure on them to get back in line.
- In the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) (which is an annual meeting of nations), the more liberal-minded countries are taking a low profile. Careful not to fuel tensions that might endanger carefully conquered ground for experimentation, they opt to keep the debate as general and diplomatic as possible, avoiding open controversy in the CND over their policy directions.
Merging Drugs and Crime (and Sidelining the Wolrld Health Organization, WHO)
- WHO recently (2005) included methadone and buprenorphine in its list of essential medicines, and advised that their current scheduling under the 1961 and 1971 Conventions needs to be reviewed because it raises contradictions. No one (in the UN) raises the obvious question that it's weird that WHO essential medicines are included in outdated schedules that lack any logic or consistency.
- The WHO Expert Committee also recommended to re-schedule THC, the active ingredient of cannabis, from its nonsensical inclusion in the list of severely controlled substances under the 1971 convention, but that recommendation did not even reach the CND.
- WHO produced a thorough paper on the effectiveness of needle exchange programmes for HIV prevention... for the CND session this year (2005), but the paper never got an official status for the CND deliberations, so was not taken seriously into account...UNODC was forced to abandon open support for such programmes.
The UN Conventions still stand as a major obstacle to the introduction of pragmatic policies at a national level. The mandate for the INCB and UNODC is to derive their wisdom from the conventions, not from reality, or only as far as the reality is compatible with the conventions.
While the tolerant approaches adopted by a number of nations have undoubtedly weakened the current regime, it seems that further progress will only be possible either through some sort of change in or defection from the regime. If the countries committed to ... pragmatic solutions want to advance any further, it is becoming urgent that they begin to question openly the straitjacket of the conventions.
- The US has used certification as an important vehicle for economic persuasion.
- This process has also been strengthened in recent years by Washington's efforts to conflate its war on drugs with the transnational fight against organised crime. Such a move increases the reputational implications of deviation by any nation.
- US moves to fuse the drug war with the new war on terror makes movement away from the prohibitive regime potentially damaging for a nation's international image.
UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs
Report on the fifty-second session
(14 March 2008 and
11-20 March 2009)
(Editor's Note: Recall from the beginning of this post that, in 1998, "The UN General Assembly Special Session, in their ... political declaration, gave the UN International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) the mandate "...to develop strategies with a view to eliminating or significantly reducing the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant and the opium poppy by the year 2008".)
WORLD DRUG REPORT 2009
Executive Summary: Preface
- First, law enforcement should shift its focus from drug users to drug traffickers. Drug addiction is a health condition: people who take drugs need medical help, not criminal retribution. Attention must be devoted to heavy drug users. They consume the most drugs, cause the greatest harm to themselves and society – and generate the most income to drug mafias. Drug courts and medical assistance are more likely to build healthier and safer societies than incarceration. I appeal to Member States to pursue the goal of universal access to drug treatment as a commitment to save lives and reduce drug demand: the fall of supply, and associated crime revenues, will follow. Let’s progress towards this goal in the years ahead, and then assess its beneficial impact on the next occasion. Member States will meet to review the effectiveness of drug policy in 2015.
- Second, we must put an end to the tragedy of cities out of control. Drug deals, like other crimes, take place mostly in urban settings controlled by criminal groups. This problem will worsen in the mega-cities of the future, if governance does not keep pace with urbanization. Yet, arresting individuals and seizing drugs for their personal use is like pulling weeds – it needs to be done again the next day. The problem can only be solved by addressing the problem of slums and dereliction in our cities, through renewal of infrastructures and investment in people – especially by assisting the youth, who are vulnerable to drugs and crime, with education, jobs and sport. Ghettos do not create junkies and the jobless: it is often the other way around. And in the process mafias thrive.
- Third, and this is the most important point, governments must make use, individually and collectively, of the international agreements against uncivil society. This means to ratify and apply the UN Conventions against Organized Crime (TOC) and against Corruption (CAC), and related protocols against the trafficking of people, arms and migrants. So far, the international community has not taken these international obligations seriously. While slum dwellers suffer, Africa is under attack, drug cartels threaten Latin America, and mafias penetrate bankrupt financial institutions, junior negotiators at these Conventions’ Conferences of the Parties have been arguing about bureaucratic processes and arcane notions of inclusiveness, ownership, comprehensiveness, and non-ranking. There are large gaps in the implementation of the Palermo and the Merida Conventions, years after their entry into force, to the point that a number of countries now face a crime situation largely caused by their own choice. This is bad enough. Worse is the fact that, quite often vulnerable neighbors pay an even greater price. There is much more our countries can do to face the brutal force of organized crime: the context within which mafias operate must also be addressed. Money-laundering is rampant and practically unopposed, at a time when interbank-lending has dried up. The recommendations devised to prevent the use of financial institutions to launder criminal money, today are honored mostly in the breach. At a time of major bank failures, money doesn’t smell, bankers seem to believe. Honest citizens, struggling in a time of economic hardship, wonder why the proceeds of crime – turned into ostentatious real estate, cars, boats and planes – are not seized.