Report on the 53d session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna, 8 – 12 March 2010
Watch Encods video report on the CND Meeting.
The meeting started with a confusing introductory speech from
Antonio Mario Costa, in his 8th and
last year as Executive Director of UNODC. On the one hand, he warned against the health disasters in poor countries if drugs were legalized in the rich part of the world, on the other, he said
people do not loose their humanity or human rights when they use drugs, and should not be jailed or killed because of that. These statements were not incidental. In the corridors of the meeting UNODC distributed documents on the integration of human rights in drug policies;
During the meetings of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) governments take the floor during 5 days, explaining the measures they were taking to confront the global drugs problem. Some side-events took place on topics such as the access to essential medicines, mostly for cancer pain. Cannabis was presented as an important element in cancer treatment.
The International Narcotics Control Board received harsh criticism from countries as Argentina and Mexico for the fact that it had condemned the tendency in both countries to decriminalise small scale possession of drugs, as a way to reduce harms and increase human rights. They succeeded to make clear that INCB was condemning countries for something that UNODC had asked them to do.
This was all the firework. The rest sounded familiar. While the Netherlands said we should tell the truth about drugs, the Swedish delegates asked not “to give up universal drug use prevention”
ENCOD delegates tried to interview some governmental delegates about their experiences. Most of them were quite willing to talk and very clearly expressed their conviction that legalization would be the best solution. Above all EU officials – and especially Eastern European delegates – were quite open on their critics on current policies. Most of them refused to be interviewed on camera, as this could create problems with those higher up in the apparatus. We managed to film interviews with delegates from Bolivia, Italy, Portugal, Sudan and Uruguay.
In the dialogue meeting that was organised by Antonio Mario Costa,
the Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime it was clear that the arguments fired on him from the audience had started to crave their toll on his patience. It seemed that throughout the 8 years of his work, Costa had built up so much frustration that he outbursted on this dialogue, blaming legalizers to be “middle class people who say that they promote harm reduction but are actually promoting drug use and are really neo-colonialists”.
Because of Costa’s agressive and paranoid behaviour, Encods Fredrick Polak refrained from making an intervention. It seemed more useful to let the other NGO delegates experience how the director general humilliated them and misrepresented their opinions and statements in reactions to polite questions and criticism.
Among the entire NGO community there was much debate about what we should do in response. Among others, Encod called for a formal complaint. The formal interlocutor with the UN, the Vienna NGO Committee, finally decided to ignore the matter, and follow the proposal of the US “Drug Free America Coalition” to go for a better relationship with the next Executive Director. In general, it was interesting to see how well NGOs are able to ressemble governments in their behaviour on this kind of events.
Sometimes one had the impression to be present in a theatre show, as if we all were held by a giant cheese under a glass cover: people flew into eachother, different tastes mixed and in the end, nobody could remain safe from the general dominating impression: that this was the next time the world lost a huge opportunity to make things right. And it looks like it is going to stay like that for some time, whereas China, Japan and Russia seem more than willing to take over Washington’s role of prohibition’s first advocate.
Of some interest on the CND agenda
was the resolution to look into Cannabis seeds
put forward initially by Japan and Azerbaijan. The CND blog of the International Drug Policy Consortium reports on the discussion on this issue:
“”When this resolution was initially tabled by Japan, it was entitled
‘Cannabis Seeds as a Global Threat’. There was little consensus as
to the sense of proportion conveyed by this title, and the Chair
quickly suggested that a new one be agreed while the COW (COMMISSION OF THE WHOLE, the mysterious name of the second large meeting that is taking place during the CND in addition to the plenary. In the COW the resolutions that were tabled by member countries are discussed) debated the issues in the text. Germany responded to the resolution by pointing out that cannabis seeds are not covered by the drug control conventions, and that, moreover, they are specifically
excluded due to their role in an extensive legitimate trade. The
CND would be exceeding its mandate with such a resolution,
the delegate opined.
The INCB replied that, while the seeds were
excluded, CND could resolve to act on the question, and poppy
seeds provided a precedent for so doing. The Russian delegate
spoke up in support of the INCB, insisting that not only could
CND address instances not under the conventions, but that there
was no excuse not to. The German delegate believed that to do so
could involve amending the conventions; France then interjected
in support of the Russian position.
The developing debate showed
a general tendency to division between ‘hard-line’ countries
on the one side and the pragmatists on the other. Interestingly,
fault lines within the UN itself were also made evident when the
WHO representative intervened to make two points. Firstly, he
said, cannabis seeds and poppy seeds were different cases, the
former being specifically excluded from the treaties, and secondly,
there is no evidence that the seeds of high-THC strains led to
The INCB responded that poppy seeds were also
explicitly excluded under the Single Convention, and yet CND
had agreed resolutions on these. The Chair himself then appeared
to weigh in against the WHO delegate. The text of this resolution
included a call for updated research into the harms of cannabis
by the WHO expert committee. The Chair had asked WHO to
report back on this at next year’s CND, and responded tetchily
when he was informed by the WHO representative that it would
take the expert committee longer than that to do such research.
“Well, you can rest over there in Geneva,” he said. “The Secretariat
will do some work and bring some findings. A year is enough
Although these comments were superficially humorous,
there was a definite undertone of antagonism; it may have been
personal, but in the context of this debate it rather seemed that
institutional differences were being articulated, overlapping those
between Member States whose cannabis policies diverged. The
WHO, with its health mandate and its more culturally-nuanced
analysis of drugs questions, not to mention its embrace of harm
reduction, is often out of step with both UNODC and the highly
politicized forum of the CND. These tensions were apparent
beneath the formal manoeuverings of the respective delegates.“”
In short what can be said about this meeting is that it took place in a year of transition. The UNODC as such and Costa in particular know that their system is losing credibility. It may well be that for the moment, harm reduction and human rights are the key words that the prohibitionist regime uses to gain space and time to rejuvenise itself. It will be a question of time before the UN realizes that in order to rejuvenise, it should walk before the troops. Already, some countries are more open than others about their ways to apply innovations in drug policies that all go in the direction of public health and individual freedom. If the UN wants to play any future role in drug policies, it should accept that reality, and embrace it.
On Friday 12 March, the Encod delegation gave a press conference on its experiences on the CND meeting in cafe Landtmann in Vienna. this conference was attended by several journalists. A Vienna newspaper, the Wiener Zeitung, had published an interview with Fredrick Polak the day before.
Read the official report on the CND meeting