Sign the statement
Our coalition is pressing for a range of reforms to international drug policy, including the prioritizing of human rights, public health, economic development, access to medicines, security, and the revision of the UN drug control conventions to eliminate the conflict that has emerged between treaty language and legalization of marijuana or other drugs in UN member states.
The statement linked here (or see below) was signed by over 100 organizations, including major ones like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch. It argues that in cases of irreconcilable conflict, nations’ obligations under the human rights treaties, which are enshrined as fundamental in the United Nations Charter, take precedence over provisions of the drug control treaties. The statement calls for a range of improvements to policies; for the UN to appoint a “Committee of Experts” to study the topic of drug treaty reform; and calls on the Obama administration to harmonize its foreign policy on drugs with its domestic policies by providing leadership at the UN to make that happen.
We continue to accept signatories for this statement. To do so, please email David Borden at firstname.lastname@example.org with your organization’s name, a sentence indicating that the organization endorses the sign-on statement, and your position within the organization.
We, the undersigned US and international non-governmental organizations that work on drug policy issues in the United States, and supporting organizations from other countries, call for a significant shift in global drug policy in line with international human rights standards, and that prioritizes health, including access to medicines, security, and development.
Existing US and global drug control policies that heavily emphasize criminalization of drug use, possession, production and distribution are inconsistent with international human rights standards and have contributed to serious human rights violations. The criminalization of personal drug use and possession for personal use infringes on the right to privacy and basic principles of autonomy on which other rights rest.
Criminalization of the drug trade has dramatically enhanced the profitability of illicit drug markets, fueling the operations of groups that commit abuses, corrupt authorities, and undermine democracy and the rule of law in many parts of the world. And both in the US and internationally, enforcement of drug laws has often involved large-scale abuses and discriminatory practices, including disproportionately harsh sentences for drug offenses in the US (which have a disparate impact on African Americans than on
whites), the use of the death penalty for drug offenses in several countries, and extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances in others. Existing drug policies have also caused other injuries to the public’s well-being, such as the proliferation of infectious diseases and the suppression of essential and promising medicines.
Concerned that drug prohibition may be incompatible, in practice if not in principle, with principles of human rights or public health, some countries – or jurisdictions within them – have begun to pursue policies that depart from that model and to seek alternative means for addressing the health and human safety concerns associated with drug use.
Following votes in several states within the United States to legalize or otherwise
regulate cannabis for non-medical use, the US State Department – as part of a “Four Pillars” approach enunciated by Ambassador William Brownfield – has called for flexibility and tolerance for countries to pursue innovative drug policies, including legal regulation.
Considering the serious human rights and health harms drug policy approaches focused on criminalization have caused in the past decades, we believe that experimenting with new, less harmful approaches, to drug policy is essential.
Accommodating some of these experiments, including with legalization and regulation of internationally controlled substances, may require that the UN drug conventions are interpreted in light of countries’ international human rights and other obligations. We believe that in case of irreconcilable conflict, human rights principles, which lie at the core of the United Nations charter, should take priority over provisions of the drug conventions. UN Member States should initiate a process of reforming and modernization of the drug conventions.
We also support the US Department of Justice’s guidance of August 2013, in which it specified conditions under which it would accommodate state-based systems of legal regulation for cannabis, despite the continuing federal prohibition of cannabis.
As then Deputy Attorney General James Cole laid out in testimony for the Senate Judiciary Committee, this approach represents the government’s most realistic strategy for pursuing federal priorities (which are also treaty priorities), in light of the small percentage of law enforcement agents in the US who are employed by the federal government, and the constitutional restraints which prevent Congress from forcing states to enforce federal laws. Among the priorities listed in the guidance are preventing violence and preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal organizations.
To address the injustices and the harms that are currently associated with drug policy in much of the world, we call for an open dialogue on these matters, and for action on them, at the April 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) and during upcoming sessions of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and related proceedings, including the convening of a Committee of Experts to review the issue of treaty reform.
Additionally, we call for substantive efforts to address the human rights abuses and other social problems resulting from many jurisdictions’ current drug policies, including but not limited to the following measures:
Essential medicines that contain or are made of controlled substances, the availability of which is currently limited in much of the world, including opioids for pain management, should be made available and accessible to all patients with a legitimate medical need.
The United Nations should work with its member states to address the regulatory, legal
and educational obstacles that have caused this scarcity and the resulting needless
Governments should ensure that drug control measures do not interfere with medical and scientific research involving controlled substances, as is currently the case in the United States with substances included in “Schedule I.”
Given the growing body of evidence for the effectiveness of medical cannabis in treating certain medical conditions, states should review and, where necessary, amend regulations or adjust scheduling in order to improve medical access and facilitate research into medical uses.
Governments should repeal laws that criminalize personal use and possession per se of drugs, taking into account their legal obligations under international human rights standards.
Governments can criminalize negligent or dangerous behavior, such as driving under the influence, to regulate harmful conduct by individuals who use drugs, without criminalizing drug use itself. Governments should also address the policies and other
factors that have driven disproportionate sentencing, over-incarceration and
The United Nations and its member states should take steps to reduce the costs of current policies toward drug production and distribution, including overhauling policies such as aerial fumigation of drug crops, that may carry unnecessary risks to health and the environment; exploring alternatives to current approaches that emphasize the use of criminal law enforcement to regulate the drug trade; and where appropriate, by adopting new legal and regulatory frameworks and adjusting enforcement practices.
The United Nations should work with its member states to end the human rights abuses occurring in drug enforcement, giving immediate priority to ending the death penalty for drug offenses.
The United Nations and its member states should adopt drug policy evaluation metrics
that focus on health, security, development, access to medicine, and human rights, rather than simple or derivative measures like use rates or quantities of drugs seized by authorities – and work to reallocate their budgets based on the evidence that such metrics reflect, for example by shifting some drug enforcement expenditures into public health programs or to other areas of law enforcement.
The United Nations should endorse the concept of harm reduction, including but not
limited to needle exchange programs, safe injection sites, medication assisted treatment (including opioid substitution or maintenance programs), and non-prosecution policies for persons seeking help for overdoses.