On July 7 to 9 in Vienna, Austria, ENCOD will participate in the “
” NGO Forum. This forum is meant to collect the points of views of NGOs regarding the outcome and the direction of global drug policies. The NGO Forum is supposed to produce a statement that will be included in the process of reflection that governments and UN agencies are in, and that will conclude at next year’s annual meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna (March 2009)
As ENCOD we would like the following issues to be part of the definitive statement for the NGO Forum in Vienna. Please comment them by replying to this article or join the discussion on this issue at the ENCOD forum.
Why we should attend this forum in the first place?
The gain of attending this kind of forums does not lie in direct influence on policy making and decisions, but in the international contacts that are made and entertained. Not only the NGOs see and hear each other’s contributions, but also the officials and diplomats, even the representatives of many countries which have no NGOs of importance at home. The “drug law reform” movement lacks the financial resources to regularly meet and hold conferences, and these meetings, organized by international organizations at least offer some subsidy. Of course, the real and most important work still has to be done in the individual countries, by national organizations, if we effectively want to influence international drug policy. The experiences at the international level will help us to do this in a better informed and coordinated way.
Issues to raise
1. More acceptance of HR (Harm Reduction and Human Rights)
For a number of countries (China, Japan, Nigeria,Thailand…), the issue of Human Rights in drug policy is still incomprehensible. We have to strengthen the call for stricter adherence to human rights standards. As to Harm Reduction, even UNODC now uses this term, in a way however which diminishes its meaning and value, as if everything UNODC does is HR! But only methods that fit in the medical model make a chance of being accepted – and even then, a long fight remains necessary, as in the case of needle exchange, heroin prescription, medicinal cannabis. When Harm Reduction methods are in the form of social projects, such as user rooms, house dealers, or “coffeehops”, they remain unacceptable to the USA and its supporters in the UN. Advocacy of human rights of drug users and of harm reduction policies is being done well and consistently by a number of NGOs. ENCOD should focus on those objectives that are crucial, but not being picked up by other NGOs.
2. Acknowledgment of unintended consequences of drug prohibition
UNODC Director Costa surprised everyone by openly acknowledging the unintended consequences of what he calls “ drug control”. What is missing in this admission, however, is the enormity and seriousness of the harms caused by drug prohibition. And more importantly, he does not see the inseparable causal link with the prohibitive system.
3. UNODC’s claim that the global drug problem is being contained
This claim has not been countered sufficiently. It has no scientific basis, and because it is a political statement, that will be used to support the continuation of drug prohibition, it needs to be refuted decisively. In the scientific world, there is a near-consensus that the link between drug policy and levels of drug use is very weak. The use of a newly introduced drug reaches a plateau after a number of years, and then continues to fluctuate around this level. Increases and decreases have more to do with cultural and social factors than with national drug policies or with availability.
Furthermore, we must address the system of evaluation and the outdated 10-yearly cycle of planning that seems to be the norm at CND. These systems do not live up to modern standards of transparency and efficiency and are a major impediment to the elaboration of effective policies on drugs at national and international level.
4. The acceptance of the drug-crime link as symbolised by UNODC
The name UN Office on Drugs and Crime expresses the policy of systematic linkage of drugs and crime. Strong objections must be made against this link. It is a misleading way of portraying drug use and drug users. It is slanderous with respect to most drug users who are no criminals. It leaves out the fact that the criminal image of drugs is artificial. Drug prohibition is a major criminogenic factor, not only on a small, but also on a large scale: armed groups in civil wars or active in terrorism can obtain funds and weapons much more easily thanks to the prohibition of the drug trade.
5. Proposal to (re-)criminalize cannabis failed only partially
At the last CND, a resolution was introduced by Morocco and a number of other, mostly Arab countries, and supported by the USA, to reinforce the prohibition of cannabis by obliging member states to criminalize cannabis use and to prosecute the cultivation for personal use. These countries were very critical of the tolerant attitude towards cannabis use in some western countries. After animated discussion, this resolution was watered down strongly. It is very regrettable that it did not fail completely. It is expected that the new Italian government plans to harden cannabis prohibition.
Cannabis is the least of problems to regulate. The real problem is to devise the regulatory systems for the other illegal drugs.
6. Legal regulation versus criminalization
At present, in a system called drug control, there is no control of production, distribution or use of the “controlled” drugs. At the CND in March the basic question of legal regulation versus criminalization was only mentioned indirectly, during the deliberations on the Maroccan resolution mentioned before. Whereas this effort to reinforce world-wide strict criminalization of cannabis was not accepted, it must probably be seen as a sort of pre-emptive strike of the USA, introduced by a vassal state, to prevent any discussion of ending cannabis prohibition. Costa goes along with the American idea that cannabis is the crucial issue. He stated: “States must live up to their commitments, not least the UNGASS Declaration. A lax approach in one country or for one type of drug – like cannabis – can unravel the entire system.”
ENCOD is one of the few organizations that openly pleads for radical change in international drug policy. We shouldn’t be too optimistic about the effect of our efforts, but not doing this will certainly not bring us any further.
Drug prohibition lacks scientific support. The belief that prohibition will diminish use has been proven unfounded. These are the subjects at which our attention should be focussed.
We are at an extraordinary moment in the history of international drug policy, namely the first effort at evaluation of the effects of implementation of the drug treaties. Failure is undeniable, and the avoidance of discussion of alternative regulation at this moment amounts to dereliction of duty, and even, it can be argued, to criminal negligence.
By: Fredrick Polak (member of the ENCOD steering committee, ENCOD representative at the Beyond 2008 process)