During a landmark special session in New York last week, the United Nations reaffirmed its commitment to upholding the international drug conventions that are the cornerstone of world drug policy.
It was a resounding defeat for proponents of the legalization of marijuana and all other currently illicit substances. Despite three years of their intense lobbying at the UN Office of Drugs and Crime in Vienna, Austria in preparation for this special UN session — only the third such meeting of the General Assembly to discuss international drug conventions — the final resolution stops far short of calling for the legalization of more drugs, including and especially marijuana.
Marijuana legalization will increase use — especially among youth — and exacerbate drug-related crime and drug harms to individuals, families, communities and entire nations, several countries’ UN representatives said. The drug’s legalization is also not needed to treat drug abusers with greater compassion or reform problematic laws that impede their rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Marijuana legalization is also not required to research the cannabis plant’s medicinal value — and it will not significantly hobble black markets or diminish some of the world’s most violent cartels.
“Yesterday, I heard many speeches … soaring rhetoric on the rights of people to access narcotics,” K. Shanmugam, Singapore’s Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law said to the general assembly. “The argument was presented as a dichotomy: Human rights and dignity on the one hand, versus oppression. Maybe this rhetoric is based on the experiences in some countries. To us, it sounds like a lot of straw man arguments. Because it is not based on facts.”
The push for marijuana legalization — which fast is morphing into calls for legalization of all currently illicit substances (see the Drug Policy Alliance, significantly funded by billionaires George Soros and Richard Branson) is driven chiefly by multinational business interests working furiously to launch the next industry that derives the lion share of its profits from addicted users much like Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol.
“We see through all of this,” said George Ochieng Odala, who directs a foundation that educates and provides support services for children living in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. “Rich countries where people have no regard for how their behavior, their industries, their politics and their media make an impact on the world — especially on poor countries like mine — and rich men with dollar signs in their eyes are some of the world’s greatest hypocrites. They speak in terms of healthcare and rehabilitation for addicts to hide their selfishness, self-indulgence, power hunger and greed.”
Canadian health minister Jane Philpott’s pledge that her country would introduce legislation next year that “ensures we keep marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals” earned hearty scoffs from Colorado residents attending the U.N. hearings. Philpott’s remarks could have been written by the marijuana industry and are the same hollow promises made to voters in their state in the run-up to Amendment 64, they said.
“Marijuana (legalization) is a disaster in Colorado,” Kelly Deaton Landen, a high school teacher in Denver told a packed room of policy experts. “I don’t have to read the research. I see what’s in my classroom every single day — and we can’t do anything to help in a meaningful way anymore. And these kids come back stoned day after day. As a teacher, parent and native Coloradan, it is absolutely infuriating.”
Mrs. Landen was backed by Christine Harms, director of the Colorado School Resource Safety Centers, who shared data about increases in student marijuana use and spoke about an array of marijuana-related problems on campus.
“The UN is not out of step with the world’s drug problem,” said Colorado resident David Downes, who also attended the meetings. “If anything, a lot of the world’s wealthiest people — far too many of them living in Colorado — need to understand how out of step they are with the needs and desires for health, community wellness and personal freedom shared by most of the world.”
Case in point: Singapore.
“Demand reduction doesn’t have to mean no compassion or consideration for the drug abuser,” Mr. Shanmugam said. “It doesn’t have to mean that we lock up the abuser, throw away the keys, and condemn him to a life of criminality. It is possible to be tough on traffickers, be tough on prevention, be tough on drug abusers. And, at the same time, help abusers psychologically, medically, economically, without having to feed them with drugs. It is possible to help many of them kick their habit and reintegrate into society.
“For us, the choice is clear. We want a drug-free Singapore, not a drug-tolerant Singapore.”
Several key elements of the UN resolution
We encourage you to read the full document, which addresses a wide range of global drug problems. Among several key passages:
On reducing the demand for drugs (page 5 of 24): “We reiterate our commitment to promote the health, welfare and well-being of all individuals, families, communities and society as a whole, and facilitate healthy lifestyles through effective, comprehensive, scientific evidence-based demand reduction initiatives at all levels, covering, in accordance with national legislation and the three international drug control conventions, prevention, early intervention, treatment, care, recovery, rehabilitation and social reintegration measures, as well as initiatives and measures aimed at minimizing the adverse public health and social consequences of drug abuse …”
On prevention (page 6): “Consider enhancing cooperation between public health, education and law enforcement authorities when developing prevention initiatives.” And “Promote and improve the systematic collection of information and gathering of evidence as well as the sharing, at the national and international levels, of reliable and comparable data on drug use and epidemiology, including on social, economic and other risk factors, and promote, as appropriate, through the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the World Health Assembly, the use of internationally recognized standards …”
On the treatment of drug use disorders, rehabilitation, recovery and social reintegration; prevention, treatment and care of HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis and other blood-borne infectious diseases (page 6): “Recognize drug dependence as a complex, multifactorial health disorder characterized by a chronic and relapsing nature with social causes and consequences that can be prevented and treated through, inter alia, effective scientific evidence-based drug treatment, care and rehabilitation programmes, including community-based programmes, and strengthen capacity for aftercare for and the rehabilitation, recovery and social reintegration of individuals with substance use disorders, including, as appropriate, through assistance for effective reintegration into the labour market and other support services … “Encourage the voluntary participation of individuals with drug use disorders in treatment programmes, with informed consent, where consistent with national legislation, and develop and implement outreach programmes and campaigns, involving drug users in long-term recovery, where appropriate, to prevent social marginalization and promote non-stigmatizing attitudes, as well as to encourage drug users to seek treatment and care, and take measures to facilitate access to treatment and expand capacity.”
On ensuring the availability of and access to controlled substances exclusively for medical and scientific purposes, while preventing their diversion (page 8): “We reiterate our strong commitment to improving access to controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes by appropriately addressing existing barriers … including those related to legislation, regulatory systems, health-care systems, affordability, the training of health-care professionals, education, awareness-raising, estimates, assessment and reporting, benchmarks for consumption of substances under control, and international cooperation and coordination, while concurrently preventing their diversion, abuse and trafficking …” The statement also commits to “… removing unduly restrictive regulations and impediments, where they exist, to ensure access to controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes, including for the relief of pain and suffering …”
On the prevention of drug-related crime (page 10): “Strengthen multidisciplinary measures at the international, regional, national, and local and community levels to prevent drug-related crime, violence, victimization and corruption and foster social development and inclusiveness, integrate such measures into overall law enforcement efforts and comprehensive policies and programmes, and promote a culture of lawfulness …”
On countering trafficking of illicit drugs and psychotropic substances (page 10): Increase cooperation at all levels and enhance measures to prevent and significantly and measurably reduce or eliminate the illicit cultivation of opium poppy, coca bush and cannabis plant used for the production of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, including through eradication, within the framework of sustainable crop control strategies and measures …
On drugs and human rights, youth, children, women and communities (page 13): “Implement age-appropriate practical measures, tailored to the specific needs of children, youth and other vulnerable members of society, in the legislative, administrative, social, economic, cultural and educational sectors, including measures to provide them with opportunities for healthy and self-sustained lives, in order to prevent their abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, and address their involvement, use and exploitation in the illicit cultivation of crops, production, manufacturing and trafficking of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and other forms of drug-related crime, including urban crime, youth and gang-related violence and crime …”
Prevent Don’t Promote, Final Statement on UNGASS 2016
A global coalition representing more than 300 nongovernmental organizations supports the international drug conventions under the banner of a campaign called Prevent Don’t Promote. The coalition’s final statement about U.N.’s final statement is below and is available here in a .pdf format.
The UN General Assembly convened this week in New York City to reaffirm the global commitment to the international drug conventions. These conventions, whose goal is to prevent and reduce drug use worldwide, remain the cornerstone of global drug policy.
“We congratulate countries for recognizing that drug use is a public health and public safety problem around the world,” said Kevin Sabet, a former White House advisor on drug policy and founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). “Speaking as one of more than 300 non-governmental organizations that joined together at the UN to show commitment to drug prevention, this event marks a real step forward in advancing those goals. Now the real challenge is implementation.”
“Prevent. Don’t Promote.” is a campaign sponsored by numerous organizations that support the UN international drug conventions and want to see a public health and safety-based policy centered on the prevention of drug use and drug problems.
“Despite the rhetoric about rifts in the global consensus on drug policy, the reality on the ground is the UN and member states are upholding principles in line with the drug conventions,” said Erik Leijonmarck, of European Cities Action Network For Drug-Free Societies (ECAD). “Moreover, this same misleading rhetoric obscures the real progress being made to scale up public health interventions in drug policy.”
Though NGOs were supportive of the meeting and outcome, there remains room for improvement on international drug policy.
“The UN final outcome document contains a number of positive steps, such as in areas of prevention, health and alternatives to incarceration for drug-related crime, even if we would have liked to see stronger language in certain areas, said Stig Erik Sørheim, president of Eurad, a European network for prevention, treatment and recovery. “We are disappointed, however, that the Member States have failed to agree on the abolition of the death penalty for drug crimes. We now urge the Member States to act on the policies they have agreed to.” (Side note: For an overview of countries that reserve use of the death penalty for some drug crimes — a group that includes the United States of America — please see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment_for_drug_trafficking.)
Asia Ashraf, head of the Department of Psychology at Sunnytrust in Islamabad, Pakistan, said: “While there was a good emphasis on gender issues as they relate to drug policy, we need to put more emphasis on the rights of children born with addiction. Ignoring this aspect of policy will result in devastating consequences by reinforcing the cycle of poverty and deprivation. Countries must avoid myopic approaches to drug policy.”
Also this week, global scientists released a new call to action reflecting “a growing consensus among experts that frequent cannabis use can increase the risk of psychosis in vulnerable people and lead to a range of other medical and social problems,” according to the The Guardian. It was reported that researchers now believe the evidence for harm is strong enough to issue clear warnings. This is in line with a recent World Health Organization report on the harms of cannabis.
Dag Endal from FORUT-Norway said: “Prevention is effective, humane, cost-effective and empowering.”