Category Archives: UNGASS2016

Preparing for 2019: Drug Policy Objectives and Indicators, System-wide Coherence and the Sustainable Development Agenda

Preparing for 2019: Drug Policy Objectives and Indicators, System-wide Coherence and the Sustainable Development Agenda

Side event held at the 60th Commission on Narcotic Drugs offers insights into how drug policy indicators could aid in achieving the sustainable development agenda.

Nazlee Maghsoudi, Knowledge Translation Manager at the ICSDP

Click here to visit the CND Blog’s live reporting from this side event.

With the UNGASS on the World Drug Problem now a year behind us, member states are looking towards the next international drug policy milestone, a High Level Ministerial Meeting in 2019. Simultaneously, member states are over a year into efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of global targets to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity by 2030. Given increasing recognition that the impacts of global drug policy are intrinsically linked to a number of SDGs, the Government of Switzerland, Health Poverty Action (HPA), International Drug Policy Consortium, Centro De Estudios Legales Y Sociales (CELS), Social Science Research Council, Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO), and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) came together at the 60th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) to explore how drug policy indicators could aid member states in more effectively achieving the sustainable development agenda.

Natasha Horsfield, Policy & Advocacy Officer from HPA, outlined crucial ways in which drugs and drug policy interact with several of the SDGs, and suggested that metrics for measuring how drug policies are contributing to the SDGs should be prioritized in preparations for 2019. Speaking about goal 1 on poverty, goal 2 on food security, and goal 5 on gender equality, Ms. Horsfield explained that marginalization and inequality are important elements in the drug trade, with poverty and food insecurity a frequent factor in involvement in illicit drug markets, and women particularly becoming involved as drug couriers because of their gendered social and economic vulnerabilities. Gender inequality is reflected in the disproportionate and alarming increase in the incarceration of women for minor drugs offences. Given these and other intersections between drug policy and the SDGs, the clear, measurable, and internationally agreed framework of targets and indicators contained within the sustainable development agenda could be adapted to measure drug policy outcomes. For example, new indicators could be adopted at national level under goal 5 to measure women and girls involved in the drug trade or incarcerated for drug crimes. Ms. Horsfield also stressed that the High Level Ministerial Meeting in 2019 presents an opportune moment to align the timeline for the next drug policy framework with the 2030 deadline for implementing the SDGs.

Elaborating on Ms. Horsfield’s remarks, Luciana Pol, Senior Fellow in Security Policy & Human Rights from CELS, pointed to improvements that could be made to drug policy indicators to support the achievement of SDG 5 on gender equality. Ms. Pol noted that the Special Rapporteur on violence against women has identified anti-drug policies specifically as a leading cause of the rising rates of incarceration of women globally, and data demonstrates that a portion of women incarcerated for drug offences are coerced into trafficking and others engage as a result of lacking viable economic opportunities. Ms. Pol described concrete ways to improve the quality of data on how drug policies impact women. First, prison data should have a gender perspective by including, for example, information on the amount of pregnant women, of children incarcerated with their mothers, and access to health services for these groups. Second, since laws in many countries don’t distinguish between different types of drug offences, small and large scale trafficking are categorized together. Differentiating between the conduct for which they are incarcerated and the roles women play will improve our understanding of incarcerated populations. Ms. Pol reminded the audience that improving our understanding of how drug policies impact women is not only essential to ensuring the achievement of SDG 5, but is also a central component of last year’s CND resolution 59/5. Ms. Pol therefore called on member states to take these and other concrete steps to mainstream a gender perspective in their collection of data relevant to drugs and drug policy, and urged UN agencies to guide member states in this process of broadening and expanding their drug policy metrics.
As a contributor on law enforcement indicators to the World Drug Report, Christian Schneider, Strategic Analyst at the Federal Office of Police in Bern, Switzerland, shared his firsthand knowledge that the incomplete nature of data on drug markets can prohibit efforts to derive meaningful policy recommendations. In addition to communicating uncertainties, Mr. Schneider proposed that gaps in the data could be addressed by adopting a more comprehensive set of indicators. Sharing technical recommendations for implementing Mr. Schneider’s suggestion, Dave Bewley-Taylor, Director of GDPO, focused on how a review of the Annual Report Questionnaires (ARQs) could support the achievement of the SDGs by aligning drug policy metrics with the sustainable development agenda. According to Prof. Bewley-Taylor, despite the limitations of self-reporting, the ARQs are a useful mechanism through which member states report on their efforts to address the world drug problem. As the nature of the world drug problem has evolved, however, there have been increasing gaps in the data collected by the ARQs. This recently came into sharp focus, as the UNGASS Outcome Document included an operational recommendation to use relevant human development indicators in alignment with the SDGs to increase understanding and improve impact assessments. Within this context, Prof. Bewley-Taylor stressed that there is a clear need to review the structure and questions of the ARQs to bring them into alignment with the SDGs by incorporating indicators related to human rights, public health, and human security. Such a review could be conducted through an interagency expert group established by the Statistical Commission, which has already begun considering these issues.

Discussions on drug policy indicators and their relationship to the sustainable development agenda are undoubtedly of utmost importance at the CND, and in other forums, such as the meeting of the high-level political forum on sustainable development in July 2017. Yet, much more than discussion is needed. As Ms. Horsfield said, advancing past this critical juncture will require political will from member states beyond simply reaffirming their commitment to SDGs, but towards deemphasizing drug control efforts that undermine the SDGs and funding those that contribute positively to their achievement. Aligning drug policy metrics with the SDGs is an important step in this direction.

 

Click here to visit the CND Blog’s live reporting from this side event.

ICSDP (re)Blog: Scientific Experts Launch Open Letter on Need for New Metrics to Evaluate Drug Policy

Reblog from:

http://www.icsdp.org/scientific_experts_launch_open_letter_on_need_for_new_metrics_to_evaluate_drug_policy

On January 21, 2016, more than eighty representatives from Member States, UN agencies, and civil society organizations gathered for the launch of a scientific open letter on the path forward for drug policy evaluation.

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Titled, “Identifying Common Ground for UNGASS 2016: Rethinking Metrics to Evaluate Drug Policy,” the event hosted by the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City provided valuable expertise and guidance to Member States and UN agencies in the lead up to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) in April 2016.

The ICSDP’s open letter calls for a reprioritization of the metrics used to evaluate illicit drug policy. Co-authored by ten global scientific leaders, the open letter uses decades of scientific research to demonstrate that the small number of indicators currently prioritized by the vast majority of UN agencies and Member States – such as levels of illicit drug use and availability – fail to capture the complex ways that drug policy can impact communities. The open letter therefore argues for the adoption of indicators in the areas of health, peace and security, development, and human rights in order to provide a broader and more granular understanding of drug policy impacts. This, in turn, would equip policymakers with the data required to optimize outcomes and substantively control the world drug problem.

Screen_Shot_2016-02-23_at_5.03.55_PM.pngDr. Dan Werb, Director of the ICSDP, focused his presentation on the development challenges that have undermined the successful implementation of Mexico’s drug policy reform. In 2009, Mexico decriminalized the possession and use of small amounts of drugs and legislated a system of diversion that would see drug dependent individuals triaged into drug treatment rather than prison. Despite one of the most progressive drug policies on the books, research measuring the effectiveness of the policy reform in Tijuana – conducted by Dr. Werb and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego – indicates that implementation has fallen short of expectations, as the number of arrests for drug possession in Tijuana have continued to rise despite the policy of decriminalization. According to Dr. Werb, this can be at least partially attributed to the lack of capacity of the Mexican state to provide members of law enforcement with adequate levels of pay, as well as training in the basic tenets of the drug policy reform. Problematically, although a cornerstone of the drug policy reform relies on increased coverage and accessibility of evidence-based addiction treatment, such as methadone maintenance therapy (MMT), resource constraints have resulted in a lack of adequate treatment scale up. Dr. Werb concluded his presentation by emphasizing that, as the Mexican case study demonstrates, a lack of resource commitment by Member States can seriously undermine drug policy goals and development indicators must therefore be captured in drug policy evaluations.

According to Dr. Kanna Hayashi, Research Scientist at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, evaluating levels of coverage for health services would be incomplete without also including indicators to assess quality, such as in the context of treatment for substance use disorders. Describing her research among people who inject drugs in Bangkok, Thailand, Dr. Kayashi noted that although Thailand added MMT to their universal health coverage in 2008, thereby increasing the accessibility of this health service, negative attitudes towards MMT by healthcare providers has led to suboptimal quality and rollout of this treatment modality. Research from 2011 found that the average dosage of methadone in Thailand was 30 milligrams, falling far below the 60-120 milligrams range recommended by the World Health Organization. As a result, 16% of those accessing MMT were also obtaining methadone illicitly and 19% reported syringe sharing. Dr. Hayashi stressed that if MMT were provided appropriately, these outcomes – which undermine efforts to reduce rates of drug dependence and to control the HIV epidemic – could have been avoided. The presence of compulsory drug detention centres is also an issue of suboptimal quality in treatments for substance use disorders. Research from 2011 indicates that, despite a lack of evidence that compulsory treatment for addiction is effective in treating drug dependence, 60% of people accessing drug treatment in Thailand were in compulsory treatment. Hence, as Dr. Hayashi’s presentation outlined, evaluations that do not include assessments of both treatment quality and availability will have limited utility in improving the health impacts of drugs and drug policy.

Dr. Daliah Heller, Clinical Professor at CUNY School of Public Health, provided concrete steps towards the adoption of health indicators by explaining how the majority of Member States could enhance existing data sets to evaluate the health impacts of their drug policies. For example, by collecting information on the presence of drug use as a contributor to death, existing death data in the United States could assess the impacts of dug use in a population. Dr. Heller also emphasized the importance of accompanying health indicators for drug policy with benchmarks for scaling up effective interventions. Monitoring and setting benchmarks for health interventions related to drug use, such as sterile syringe coverage, could help define government funding priorities and highlight disparities to ensure equity in the scale up of health services.

After explaining that the separation between the international drug control and human rights regimes has created an environment of systemic human rights risk in drug policy, Ms. Genevieve Sander, Human Rights Research Analyst at Harm Reduction International, described a series of steps that could be used to ensure the adoption of human rights indicators into drug policy evaluations. First, the specific human rights relevant to drug policy, such as the right to life, must be identified. Human rights standards should then be reviewed to determine the key characteristics of each right in the context of drug policy. A relevant key characteristic of the right to life, for example, would be the use of the death penalty for drug offences. Next, in order to design comprehensive human rights indicators for drug policy, structural, process, and outcome indicators must be included. Structural indicators can be used to shed light on the intent of a Member State. For the right to life , these may include the ratification of international human rights treaties relevant to protecting this human right. Process indicators indicate complicity in human rights violations, and in the example of the right to life, could include the number of convicted people facing the death penalty for drug offences. Finally, a relevant outcome indicator in the context of the right to life is the number of executions for drug offences in the last 12 months. Ms. Sander noted that incorporating all three types of indicators helps to reveal connections between actions and human rights outcomes, and thereby provides information on accountability. Ms. Sander concluded her presentation by emphasizing that all Member States are bound by their obligation in the UN Charter to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. Adopting human rights indicators, targets, and benchmarks would allow Member States to better meet this obligation by reframing global priorities, focusing on more effective policies and interventions, and redirecting resources to where they are most needed.

Event attendees left with a greater understanding of the need to integrate scientific evidence into the development of a broader set of drug policy metrics, and were equipped with clear and demonstrable steps to better evaluate the multilayered impacts of drug policy on communities.

[WATCH A VIDEO RECORDING OF THE EVENT]

PRESENTATION SLIDES: [DR. WERB] [DR. HAYASHI] [DR. HELLER] [MS. SANDER]

View From the Ground: Bocas del Toro; Drugs in Paradise

By Alastair Smith, Panama

Following exploratory fieldwork in the rural coca growing fields of Colombia, GDPO followed the cocaine supply chain to Panama. Most recently, time spent on the Northern Caribbean coast soon revealed the permeation of drug trafficking into the already complex socioeconomic context that many perceive as paradise.

Paradise

Paradise of Bocas del Toro (MandingA 2013)

First impressions of Bocas del Toro – the name of both the 7,000+ person settlement on Isla Colon, just off the north eastern seaboard of Panama, but also the wider surrounding Province – largely confirm its international reputation as an accessible tropical ‘paradise’. With sympathetic afternoon light, the final leg of the 1-hour flight from Panama City reveals aqua marine water lapping at golden sands backed by lush green forests. Once established in the area, other widely talked about attractions of Bocas quickly emerge. There is a wealth of outdoor activities. Many international tourists, largely backpackers, and domestic visitors come to enjoy the Caribbean Sea: to scuba dive and snorkel, surf the notorious waves of Playa Bluff, or to take things a little easier with sunbathing and guided tours to spot the charismatic wildlife.

Party goers in one of Bocas' bars open late into the morning

Party goers in one of Bocas’ bars open late into the morning (Taken by Author 2015)

Another attraction of Bocas del Toro for many, and particularly backpackers, is undoubtedly the opportunity to mix Salsa and Reggaeton music, with low cost national beers and regional rum cocktails, as they enjoy the party life offer on Isla Colon (primarily in BocasTown) and the surround islands. Many of the bars and clubs in Bocas town are right on the water: making it very possible to ‘live the dream’ of enjoying beers in a hammock, dancing off the alcohol, and when things get a little too hot back-flipping off the dock into the cooling sea.

In this hedonistic environment, it is seemingly easy to forget the volumes of boat traffic and not think about the dubious quality of the sea water while enjoying a midnight swim. Another undercurrent in the town is the availability cocaine and cannabis. Sellers freely mix in the nightlife with various degrees of subtly in communicating their offerings. During the day, it is unusual to walk the length of town without being offered ‘weed’ – sometimes as a follow up to the initial list proposal of taking a boat tours to the beach – although there is little menacing about time spent in Bocas, and disinterest is well-accepted by opportunistic sellers.

Part of the reason for the level of supply is the demand of international tourists and more permanent life style migrants willing to pay higher prices than local consumers. However, Bocas del Toro is also well supplied with drugs as one of the recognized points of refuge for traffickers making the journey up the EasternCoast from Colombia to North America

Originally founded as a settlement of concentrated population by foreign banana producers, the region remained disconnected from administration in Panama City due to a lack of a reliable road connection: and therefore, the centralized government administration has lacked a presence in many respects. The archipelago is also composed of some highly remote islands that fall well beyond almost all government services and authority: and as in many cases across the world, the lack of state institutions supports the trafficking of drugs.

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View of coastal geography from the air (Author 2015)

Despite limited resources, local law enforcement officers in Bocas confirm that they have been involved in interdiction operations in partnership with central authorities and the US Coast Guard: furthermore, these operations have yielded high powerboats used by the traffickers that are then repurposed for local counter narcotics operations. Discussions with the local police support existing knowledge that traffickers use the inland water ways of the Panamanian coast to evade the authorities during the day, and then make their staged journeys under the cover of night (UNODC 2012). In some cases it is believed that small shipments of drugs are consolidated in Panama before being moved on (UNODC 2012). Local testimony also identified that during chases, traffickers will jettison quantities of drugs in attempts to bribe the police.

It is through a combination of these mechanisms that trafficked drugs enter the Bocas economy. The availability of drugs then provides relatively easy returns for those willing to become involved. This option is especially attractive so some due to the poor quality of education, high levels of poverty and general limitations on livelihood opportunities in the Bocas region. Despite Panama’s average national economic growth of 7.2% between 2001 and 2013, of the mainly indigenous population of the Bocas del Toro province, 25% are classified as poor and 11% as extremely poor (Omar and Moreno 2014). Many of these people live on subsistence agriculture and fishing on outer islands. There is therefore a potentially strong pull incentive to become involved in the distribution of drugs. In this case, as was found in Colombia, rural development will likely be as important an anti-trafficing policy as strengthening governance capacity for interdiction operations.

In conclusion, while the vast majority of visitors to Bocas del Toro find their expectations of fulfilled, the reality is that the international trafficking of drugs is playing into a complex socioeconomic situation, which many of the ‘poor’ permanent residents might well not accept as ‘paradise’. Again, genuine investment in enhancing the life opportunities of those currently motivated to support drugs distribution will likely contribute to a reduction in the global trade in narcotic drugs.

Sources

Omar, A. and V. Moreno ( 2014). Pobreza e Indigencia. Panama, Ministerio de Economia y Finanzas.

UNODC (2012). Cocaine from South America to the United States. Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean A Threat Assessment. Vienna, United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime.

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Has the US just called for unilateral interpretation of multilateral obligations?

by Rick Lines And Damon Barrett

[Dr Rick Lines and Damon Barrett are the Chair and Director of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy, University of Essex]

This post was originally published here

These are interesting times for drug law reform, which, as it gathers pace, is asking important questions of international law. A UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs is set for 2016just as national reforms are challenging international treaties that form the bedrock of a global prohibition regime that has dominated since the turn of the twentieth century. States parties to the three UN drug control conventions must now confront the legal and political dilemmas this creates. This is the situation in which the US now finds itself following cannabis reforms in various states that are at odds with these treaties. The State Department has issued its official position in this regard, one that stretches and boundaries of interpretation and raises other serious questions for international law.

In an October statement Ambassador William Brownfield set out that position in the form of the ‘four pillar’ approach the United States will now follow in matters of international drug control. While the four pillars, set out below, have prompted much discussion and debate among those working on drug policy issues, attention among international lawyers has been rare. This is something of an important gap given the implications of what the US suggests:

  1. Respect the integrity of the existing UN drug control conventions.
  2. Accept flexible interpretation of those conventions.
  3. Tolerate different national drug policies…[and] accept the fact that some countries will have very strict drug approaches; other countries will legalise entire categories of drugs.
  4. Combat and resist criminal organisations, rather than punishing individual drug users

Internationally, the four pillars have emerged in the context of efforts, led primarily by Latin American States, to open discussions on the future of the international drug control regime, and look at alternatives to the current and destructive prohibitionist paradigm.  Domestically, it comes in the context of successful referenda to legally regulate cannabis in several US states.

Both of these are welcome developments. The international drug regime is long overdue for reform, and the cannabis referenda will produce many positive criminal justice, health and social outcomes in those US states adopting them. However, domestic cannabis law reform places the United States in a compromised position within the coming debates on the future shape of the international drug control regime.

By permitting legal markets in recreational cannabis, the United States is in breach of both the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1988 Convention on Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. This is an awkward position for the US, which for over 100 years has been both the driving force behind the international drug control regime, as well the regime’s de facto policeman. Admitting the breach threatens both a system the US wishes to protect, as well as its own influential role within it. Rectifying the breach domestically requires trampling on State-level democratic ballot initiatives. To its credit the Obama Administration has said via a memorandum from Deputy Attorney General James Cole it will respect and not interfere with the outcomes of those referenda.

The four pillars are a response to this legal and diplomatic conundrum. To justify its contention of treaty ‘flexibility’ – allowing, for example, its legal cannabis market – the US engages in some interesting, if problematic, legal gymnastics. As explained in an earlier speech of Brownfield’s in March:

[I]f it is a living document and they are living documents [the UN drug control conventions], living means you are allowed to adjust your interpretation as the world changes around you, the world in 1961 was a different place from the world in 2014 and we the governments and members states of the UN system should be permitted to interpret with that degree of flexibility as we move in to the 21st century.

Using the language of treaties as living documents – more commonly known as dynamic or evolutive interpretation – Brownfield attempts to paint cannabis legalisation in the US as something other than the breach it obviously is, in the process raising a number of international legal concerns.

Dynamic interpretation is well established in international human rights law, particularly the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. But, as described by the International Law Commission in 2006, it is an approach ‘much more deeply embedded in human rights law than in general international law’, suggesting that its application in the context of international drug control law must be considered cautiously. This is not to suggest that dynamic interpretation is not evident in other regimes, and it indeed has been used by the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Justice and the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization in various cases.

The drug treaties are suppression conventions. They form part of the body of transnational criminal law, not international human rights law. However, we accept that, for a variety of reasons it is legitimate to apply a dynamic interpretive approach to elements of international drug control law, particularly where drug control engages human rights. However, there are clear problems with the US’s use of this approach.

The first is the limits of interpretation itself. The classic approach to dynamic interpretation, as established by the European Court in Tyrer v UK, is a process of broadening or expanding the understanding of an obligation based upon changes in law, evolving social norms or widespread change in State practice. In other words, understanding treaty language in a modern context. There are various examples of this in practice from differing legal regimes.

However, Brownfield suggests that the ‘living’ nature of the drug treaties means that an obligation can legitimately evolve to the point of meaning the exact opposite of what it states, and that somehow the non-medical, non-scientific use of cannabis has evolved from being illegal in international law to being legal. This is an absurdity. The treaties already include a mechanism for the status of individual drugs to change or evolve, and for individual substances can be included in, or removed from, international control with approval of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, a process known as ‘rescheduling’. The Brownfield approach circumvents this, for the obvious reason that such a resolution would never make it through the Commission, and instead posits the ‘living instrument’ idea as the alternative.

However, for this outcome to be legally valid without cannabis being rescheduled, dynamic interpretation would need to alter the understanding of what the term ‘medical and scientific use’ means within the conventions, the only circumstance within the current international regime under which cannabis, and all controlled substances, may be legally manufactured, accessed and used. But Brownfield does not suggest this, for if he did then this evolved understanding of medical and scientific use could reasonably be applied to all drugs under international control, making legal recreational access to all controlled drugs part of the new ‘living’ drug regime. This is clearly a bridge too far for the US.

The second problem is one of interpretive forum. Dynamic interpretation is a judicial approach, utilised by judges or adjudication bodies to balance competing or conflicting interests in arriving at a decision. It is an approach employed by a neutral arbiter to dispute resolution, not a doctrine for States to use to unilaterally change the nature and scope of their own treaty obligations. Indeed, if we are to pursue an evolutive approach, then we also need to look at broader State practice. You can easily count on the fingers one hand the number of countries with a legalised recreational cannabis market, so this approach has clearly not evolved to an extent where legal regulation of the substances within the treaties would be permissible. Even then it is stretching any reasonable interpretation to reverse what the law in fact says. But in any case Brownfield does not suggest that we look to evolving State practice. The four pillars suggest, quite clearly, the acceptance of divergent unilateral interpretations. Whatever one thinks of the drugs treaties, such an approach creates an international minefield. Imagine an international legal order in which individual States are allowed to decide for themselves which treaty obligations apply to them, and in what way.

Here, however, we come to the third major problem, which is that the flexibility the US seeks for itself may not extend to others at all. We have both argued separately that this new US position has little to do with treaty compliance, and is really about maintaining its own central role as global arbiter of drug control, a position which it uses to great influence internationally. Surprisingly, US drug czar Michael Botticelli recently admitted as much in his Senate confirmation hearings, stating that ‘[t]he Four Pillar framework is an effort to stake out a middle ground between those who believe that prosecution and jail is the only approach and those favoring radical changes to the conventions’. In effect, the US denial of its own treaty breach allows it to sit in judgement over the drug reform actions of other States, comfortable in its self appointed role of neutral ‘middle man’ or ‘referee’ of acceptable treaty flexibility, and therefore protecting its own national interests against any ‘radical changes to the conventions’, apart from its own.

To be clear, our concern is not about compliance with bad laws, which these treaties surely are. Our concern is with the potential implications of the State Department’s argumentation. The failed, punitive prohibitionist approach of the international drug control regime must end. It is a regime that causes untold human and societal damage across the globe, and change to this regime is slow yet becoming more inevitable. However, it would be unfortunate to see established rules of international law become collateral damage in the fallout of the end of the war on drugs.

Time for UN to open up dialogue on drug policy reform and end counter-productive blame-game

tni-gdpoAs the UN International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) launched its annual report on Tuesday, 4 March, amidst an unprecedented crisis in the international drug control regime, leading drug policy reform experts have called on the INCB and related UN institutions to urgently open up a constructive dialogue on international drug policy reform.

Approval of legally regulated cannabis markets in the states of Colorado and Washington and in Uruguay have caused breaches in the UN drug control regime and shakes the foundations of the prohibitionist “Vienna consensus” that has dominated international drug policy for several decades.

Yet rather than seek to learn from or understand the growing political support for alternative drug policies, the UN drug apparatus – and particularly the INCB – has responded mainly with shortsighted hostility and narrow-minded rejectionism. It has refused to countenance any reforms, treating the set of conventions like a perfect immutable constitution rather than a negotiated settlement that needs reforming and modernising as science advances or political and social conditions change. This came to a head recently, when Raymond Yans, President of the INCB denounced Uruguay’s “pirate attitude” for its cannabis regulation laws, causing a diplomatic uproar and raising questions about his position.

A forthcoming report by the Transnational Institute and the Global Drug Policy Observatory to be released in the advance of high-level UN drug policy meetings in Vienna in mid March 2014, tells the hidden story of how the inclusion of cannabis in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as a psychoactive drug with “particularly dangerous properties” was the result of dubious political compromises, questionable decision-making procedures and with little scientific backing.

Growing numbers of countries such as the Netherlands and Spain, but also states in the U.S. and India have shown discomfort with the UN drug control treaty regime through soft defections, stretching the inbuilt legal flexibility to sometimes questionable limits. The regulated cannabis markets in Uruguay, Washington and Colorado however are clear breaches with the treaty, and mean that a discussion on the need for fundamental reform of the UN drug control system can no longer be avoided.

Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute said,

“We are at a tipping point now as increasing numbers of nations realise that cannabis prohibition has failed to reduce its use, filled prisons with young people, increased violence and fuelled the rise of organised crime. As nations like Uruguay pioneer new approaches, we need the UN to open up an honest dialogue on the strengths and weaknesses of the treaty system rather than close their eyes and indulge in blame games. The moral high-ground that Yans claims in name of the Board to condemn such “misguided” policies, are completely out of place and unacceptable.” 

Dave Bewley-Taylor of the Global Drug Policy Observatory said,

“For many years, countries have stretched the UN drug control conventions to their legal limits, particularly around the use of cannabis.  Now that the cracks have reached the point of treaty breach, we need a serious discussion about how to reform international drug conventions to better protect people’s health, safety and human rights.  Reform won’t be easy, but the question facing the international community today is no longer whether there is a need to reassess and modernise the UN drug control system, but rather when and how.” 

 

‘The Dilemmas of Drug Policy: Global to local’

On Wednesday 19th February GDPO hosted a film screening of ‘Raw Opium: Pain, Pleasure, Profits’ followed by a panel discussion ‘The Dilemmas of Drug Policy: Global to local’.

Raw Opium-300-q90The film itself follows the trade in opium/heroin from a poppy growing region of India, over the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border and on to Vancouver’s supervised injection site – Insite – to Portugal’s drug dissuasion committees.  There are largely insightful interviews with poppy growers in Arunachal Pradesh, India, a UNDOC enforcement officer on the Tajik-Afghan border, a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officer, the former Indian Narcotics Commissioner Romesh Bhattacharji (and GDPO Technical Advisor) as well as members of the Insite team, Gabor Mate (a doctor who works in Vancouver with problematic drug users), and Portuguese street workers who offer support and food to drug users on the streets.  It also talks to some of those that use the supervised injection site in Vancouver about why they started using drugs and what Insite means to them.  The film is a powerful exploration of the local and global impacts of the trade.

Building upon many of the issues raised within the film, the accompanying panel discussion explored global nature of the illicit market in heroin and other controlled drugs as an area of public policy concern.

Panel members:

Julia Buxton (Chair)  GDPO Senior Research Officer and Professor of Comparative Politics, School of Public Policy at the Central European University, Budapest

Baroness Molly Meacher  Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Drug Policy Reform

Ifor Glyn  Chief Executive, SANDS Cymru

Mike Trace  Chief Executive, The Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPt), Chair, International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) steering group, former Deputy UK Anti-Drug Coordinator

David Bewley-Taylor  GDPO Director and Professor of International Relations and Public Policy, Swansea University

Kicking off the discussion, Professor Bewley-Taylor emphasised the global nature of the heroin/opium trade.  In this regard, he noted that in 2012-13 there had been a 36% rise in opium production in Afghanistan and that poppies are now being grown in provinces that had previously been designated ‘poppy-free.  He also pointed out that after full ‘Transition’ at the end of 2014, the security situation is likely to worsen with a consequence being that poppy production will continue to increase.  Despite a range of complexities and uncertainties concerning the opium market, any increase in production in Afghanistan may well result in a decrease in price and an increase in purity of heroin on the streets of the UK.

This may have a direct impact upon the heroin markets in Swansea.  On a local level, it was noted by Ifor Glyn that the city has a growing problem with heroin use.  Twenty years ago there was very little heroin use in Swansea and the surrounding area.  Today it is one of the main drugs used by clients at SANDS CYMRU.  This seems to be part of a broader principality-wide situation, with an estimated 17,000 problematic drug users in Wales.  In response, since devolution,  the Welsh Assembly Government has become more innovative regarding drug policy and has invested £32 million into the issue area.  The Advisory Panel on Substance Misuse – the Welsh version of the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) – has recognised that there is a need for drug consumption rooms like the Insite facility shown in the film.  They have also looked into heroin prescription similar to the model used in Switzerland.  On this point, Baroness Meacher noted that the Swiss model provides a wide range of support services from heroin maintenance to counselling and housing support. She also pointed out that it is estimated that for every 1 Swiss Franc (CHF) spent on this programme, the tax payer is saved CHF2.

Whilst the Welsh government has not instituted drug consumption rooms or heroin maintenance as yet, they are considering new approaches to drug policy.  Public Health Wales has set up a government-funded drug testing service – the Wedinos project – where people can have their ‘legal highs’ (or Novel Psychoactive Substances) tested to find out what substances they contain.  It aims to give individual users rapid and accurate information to reduce harms associated with drug use.

On national level issues, Baroness Meacher highlighted that UK Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, has ‘come out’ in favour of a review of the UK Misuse of Drugs Act  but that Labour and the Conservatives are still resistant to change.  Panel members concurred that politicians often do not engage with drug policy reform because there is a fear that being supportive of decriminalisation or legalisation can be politically damaging.  For example, at the 2002 Home Affairs Select Committee (of which David Cameron was a member) it was agreed that it was necessary to review the MDA.  Cameron supported this but when he became Prime Minister, he jettisoned this proposal.

In response to a question from the audience asking why drug policy is not simply left to the ‘experts’, Baroness Meacher noted that in the UK policy is driven by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) and therefore the only people who can change this are politicians.  Scientists, such as members of the ACMD, do their best but are often ignored.  A recent example of this was UK Home Secretary Theresa May’s announcement that the drug khat would become a banned substance against the ACMD’s advice.  You can read more about the ban on the khat trade in GDPO’s Situation Analysis – The UK khat ban: Likely adverse consequences.

On the international level, it seems that rhetorically at least, there has been a shift in emphasis from criminalisation to a more public health orientated approach.  There has been a recognition in much of the world that punishment shouldn’t be a tool of demand reduction.  The UN is holding a special session (UNGASS) on drug policy in 2016 and, as outlined by Mike Trace, diplomats are currently trying to agree on a Joint Ministerial Statement (JMS) that will set the scene for the UNGASS, as well as recording member states’ views of progress towards the goals set at the UN Political Declaration on drugs in 2009.  It is becoming clear, however, that there is little consensus around the issue.    According to Mike Trace states involved in the JMS process can be broadly divided into three camps:

  • Reformers – e.g. Latin American states such as Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala
  • Re-balancers – e.g. European nations who agree that drug policy should be health-based rather than criminal justice-based.
  • Defenders – usually authoritarian countries e.g. Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan.  For these countries the War on Drugs is handy for pacifying citizens.

Member states will attend the annual Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting in Vienna in March for a ‘High-Level Segment’ in order to finalise the Join Ministerial Statement.  But, as yet, there is little agreement on what it should contain. 

Another area of discussion centred on drug policy reform and the relationship between support at the government level and public opinion.

In many countries public opinion on drug policy is way ahead of the politicians.  Mike Trace noted that in the US public support in favour of legalisation has shot up in recent years and now hovers around the 60% mark.  As a result of this jump in public support, more and more US politicians are coming out in favour of cannabis reform particularly since the voter initiatives in Washington and Colorado in 2012.

A Gallup poll produced last October shows how support for legalisation has changed over time.

marijuana-legalization-support-gallup-poll

The situation is somewhat different in the UK where there is no option for voter-driven referendums. However, Mike Trace noted that within 24 hours of an online campaign run by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Avaaz hitting 100,000 signatures, all three main political parties became more eager to discuss the issue.  It seems that even in the UK politicians are becoming aware that the public mood might be shifting.

INCB vs Uruguay: the art of diplomacy

INCB President Yans disqualified himself and should consider stepping down

International tensions over Uruguay’s decision to regulate the cannabis market reached new levels when Raymond Yans, president of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), accused Uruguay of negligence with regard to public health concerns, deliberately blocking dialogue attempts and having a “pirate attitude” towards the UN conventions. President Mujica reacted angrily, declaring that someone should “tell that guy to stop lying,” while Milton Romani, ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), said that Yans “should consider resigning because this is not how you treat sovereign states.”

The majority vote in the Uruguayan Senate on Tuesday, December 10, gave the final green light to legally regulate the domestic cannabis market for medical, industrial and recreational use. The system for licensed cultivation and distribution through pharmacies will start in the spring under strict state controls. And as soon as president Mujica signs the bill, people will be able to grow up to six plants for personal use, and cannabis clubs can be registered to allow 15 to 45 members to grow up to 99 plants collectively. INCB president Raymond Yans said in a press release he was “surprised” that Uruguay “knowingly decided to break the universally agreed and internationally endorsed legal provisions of the treaty”.

The outcome of the Senate vote was as expected (the approval in the House of Representatives earlier this year was much more a cliff-hanger) and the fact that the INCB came out with a strong statement against it was no big surprise either. There is little doubt that the cannabis regulation schemes approved in the US states of Colorado and Washington, and now in Uruguay, fall outside of the “limits of latitude” of the UN drug control conventions. The INCB mandate includes monitoring compliance with the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the treaty in which cannabis is scheduled, so the Board can legitimately express its concern over the increasing defiance of international cannabis control requirements. As the Commentary on the 1972 Protocol Amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs explains, however, the Board “has to maintain friendly relations with Governments, guided in carrying out the Conventions by a spirit of co-operation rather than by a narrow view of the letter of the law” (p. 11, § 5).

The real issue at hand is how the UN apparatus has been dealing with the reality of ongoing cannabis policy changes that appear to be irreversible, spreading out rapidly and posing fundamental challenges to the treaty system. The 2006 UNODC World Drug Re­port recognised that “much of the early material on cannabis is now considered inaccurate, and that a series of studies in a range of countries have exonerated cannabis of many of the charges levelled against it.” The report concludes that “[e]ither the gap between the letter and spirit of the Single Convention, so manifest with cannabis, needs to be bridged, or parties to the Convention need to discuss redefining the status of cannabis.”[1]

The real surprise this week, therefore, was to see how ill-prepared, politicised and undiplomatic the statements from both INCB and UNODC were, given that they were well aware of Uruguay’s plan and would have been conscious of the need to respond. Perhaps their awkward remarks reflect their recognition this is the beginning of an irreversible trend that they are powerless to stop. The first dominoes have fallen and there are more to come… Some US states are preparing regulation initiatives to bring to the ballot in November next year, and several more intend to do so for the 2016 presidential elections.

Offensive accusations

In the INCB press release, Yans accused the Uruguayan government and parliament of not acting in the interest of the health and safety of the population. Without any references or sources, he said that “the decision of the Uruguayan legislature fails to consider its negative impacts on health,” that “available scientific evidence … was not taken into consideration by the legislators” and that the stated aim of the legislation to reduce crime “relied on rather precarious and unsubstantiated assumptions.”

Without devoting a single word to the justification provided by the government, the detailed presentation by senator Roberto Conde or the arguments given in the nearly twelve hours of debate about the law, Yans simply gave his own unsubstantiated judgement. The legislation “will not protect young people but rather have the perverse effect of encouraging early experimentation, lowering the age of first use, and thus contributing to developmental problems and earlier onset of addiction and other disorders.”

Uruguay has developed evidence-based policies on prevention, demand reduction and risk and harm reduction for all psychoactive substances. The strong public health approach adopted by Uruguay is also showcased by its strict tobacco controls for which the country is currently being sued by Philip Morris, who are claiming billion dollar losses, and by new alcohol misuse prevention measures that will be introduced next year. Accusing this government and these legislators of negligence in the area of public health protection is unjustified and offensive. UNODC issued the same day a fairly lame statement, simply to say that they agreed with everything the INCB president said: parroting Yans was apparently the best UNODC could come up with on this crucial moment for the global drug policy debate.

The Dread Pirate Mujica

Things got worse when Yans was interviewed by EFEand accused the Uruguayan government of having a “pirate attitude” to the conventions. In a previous video interview, referring to the referenda in Colorado and Washington, he had called on these states to “stop this nonsense” – once again a disrespectful way to describe the outcome of a democratic decision making process. He hasn’t accused the US government of negligence or a “pirate attitude” yet, prompting Mujica to question a double discourse: “One for Uruguay and one for the powerful.”

To EFE, Yans also expressed his frustration on how difficult it has been to get access to the government to discuss these matters: “We have desperately tried to meet with Uruguayan authorities for two years. It is the only country in the world, with Papua New Guinea, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, that has refused to have a dialogue with the INCB.” Twice before, Yans had expressed the same frustration, first when a proposed INCB mission to Montevideo was cancelled and later on when “Uruguay-Guinea” decided not to send a delegation to the November 2013 INCB session.

It is not true that a high level political dialogue has not taken place. In the margins of the 2013 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) session in March in Vienna, the Uruguayan Minister for the Presidency (“prosecretario”, equivalent to “Prime Minister”) Diego Cánepa had extensive meetings with Raymond Yans. But it is true that there was a certain reluctance on the Uruguayan side to receive Yans in Montevideo before the Parliamentary process was concluded. Yans’ attitude raised concerns that the already polarised and politicised national debate in Uruguay might be further “polluted” by his unsubstantiated personal opinions if they were presented as official UN positions. Uruguay expressed its willingness to engage in further dialogue with the Board once the legislation had been approved. By now, however, dialogue seems pointless as long as Yans remains president.

Raymond Yans is not known for his excellence in the art of diplomacy and nuance, and his controversial remarks do not represent the opinion of all thirteen INCB members. Usually no prior consultation takes place before issuing such statements presumably done by the president in name of the INCB, and as one of the members made clear that was the case again now.

UNGASS 2016

Looking at the long-term implications for international drug policy, UNODC Executive Director Yuri Fedotov said, in response to Uruguay’s decision: “It is unfortunate that, at a time when the world is engaged in an ongoing discussion on the world drug problem, a unilateral action has been taken ahead of the outcome at a special session of the UN General Assembly planned for 2016.” An intensive debate about the future direction of drug policy is ongoing, particularly in the Western Hemisphere, as Yans also recognised and “welcomed”. “Yet, such discussions should be within the framework of the drug control conventions,” he said, trying to impose limits on what states are allowed to discuss.

The reality is that as long as no country has the courage to truly challenge the dominant paradigm and to pioneer alternative policies in practice, the 2016 UNGASS will most likely result in nothing more than a slightly tweaked new “consensus” declaration. Uruguay’s Drugs Strategy for 2011-2015 mentions the need for a new drug control paradigm based on science, public health, social development and human rights, and promises to promote “a great international debate about the implementation and the results of the hegemonic drug policies in force in the last 50 years, prompting the review of the international conventions governing the matter.” According to the policy document, international agencies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNODC, the Joint UN Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), the Human Rights Council, OAS/CICAD, etc., all should be involved in the debate.

Such a process to redefine future UN drug control policy guidance is starting right now, with the CND high-level segment in March 2014 and the preparations for the 2016 UNGASS. Managing the upcoming debate constructively to reflect the diverging opinions and policies will require not only basic understanding of the art of diplomacy, but also respect for the difficult choices countries need to make in the process. In theory, the INCB could play a useful role in assisting member states to carefully manage the unavoidable future changes in the treaty system. With his blunt statements on Uruguay, however, Yans has disqualified himself, become an obstacle to constructive dialogue and should indeed consider stepping down.

This blog was written by Martin Jelsma and originally appeared on the TNI Drugs and Democracy website here.

Modernizing Drug Law Enforcement takes the stage at United Nations headquarters in New York

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Last week the topic of modernizing drug law enforcement took center stage at UN Headquarters when the Permanent Missions of Switzerland and the Czech Republic to the United Nations co-sponsored a program with International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), Harm Reduction Coalition, the International Security Research Department at Chatham House and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) entitled “Modernizing Drug Law Enforcement”. Featuring a distinguished international panel of scholars and law enforcement personnel including Professor David Bewley-Taylor (Director, Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO) at Swansea University, UK), Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown (Brookings Institute, Washington D.C.) and Interim Chief of Police Jim Pugel (Seattle), the event aimed to promote debate around the current challenges to drug law enforcement, the concept of managing drug markets to minimize harm and the implications for future law enforcement strategies. The program was moderated by Heather Haase of IDPC and Harm Reduction Coalition and was well-attended by the UN community and civil society.

The first speaker was Professor David Bewley Taylor, who gave an overview of the Modernizing Drug Law Enforcement project and its key goals and objectives. Providing background for the project, he explained that for decades drug law enforcement has focused on reducing the size of the illicit drug markets by seeking to eradicate drug production, distribution and retail supply, but that these methods have failed in significantly decreasing supply and demand in consumer drug markets. As a result there is a need for an adjustment in drug law enforcement strategies: the new challenge is to manage drug markets policing strategy in a way that will minimize harm to communities.

Minimizing harm is particularly relevant in the case of drug-related violence. Discussing the relationship between violence and drug markets, Professor Bewley-Taylor explained how actions of law enforcement can affect – and even cause – drug drug-related violence. He noted the growing recognition that law enforcement powers can be used to constructively shape these markets and discussed several underlying concepts, especially focusing on the need to change indicators to “metrics that matter” – from metrics concerned with numbers of drug-related arrests, seizures, or hectares of crops eradicated to measures relating to public health and community well-being. He also discussed the need for selective targeting of law enforcement efforts on areas where the most impact on harms can be achieved, and concentrating law enforcement action on the basis of the level of harm caused by individuals in the market (rather than focusing on the easiest to catch).

Professor Bewley-Taylor then presented the core objectives of the program, supported by a series of publications as well as network development and seminars. He ended by expressing the hope that “we will move into the High Level Review in Vienna and the 2016 drugs UNGASS with a different view about policing drug law enforcement”.

Next, Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown discussed her report “Focused deterrence, selective targeting, drug trafficking and organized crime: Concepts and practicalities” (as well as various concepts addressed in the other reports in the series), focusing on enforcement efforts in the context of global drug markets. Giving an overview of the ever changing global drug market, she noted that while each country is different and “one size does not fit all” in the context of law enforcement responses to each situation, there were some things that are generally true across the board. These included that we not only cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem but we also cannot “eradicate” our way out: eradication efforts have not had a lasting effect on markets due to the “balloon effect”. The drug markets pose very severe threats to states and societies – including violence – and therefore it is critical how these markets are managed. She discussed traditional law enforcement methods (exported from the US, particularly NY) such as zero tolerance and high-value targeting (going after heads of criminal organizations) that have been ineffective overall. She then suggested an alternative: while law enforcement has traditionally focused on suppression on the flow of drugs, it makes more sense to focus on suppressing the violence instead. Drug markets lend themselves to this prioritization because drugs are an infinitely renewable resource; thus it would be more effective to focus on the harms associated with the flows, rather than on the flows per se. Another method is to identify the greatest threat generated by a particular drug market and apply selective targeting and focused deterrence methods to signal to criminals that certain behaviors are less tolerated than others (e.g., trafficking will be punished, but violence will be punished far more). Also, middle-level targeting is more effective than high-value targeting, as it is really the middle layer that allows an organization to operate, while in many cases high-value targeting disrupts an organization leading to more violence but no change in conditions.

Finally, she suggested that the goal of law enforcement in connection with drug markets should be to shape behavior of criminals to pose the least threat to societies. She discussed certain aspects connected with this goal, including reducing, to the lowest level possible, the violence of criminals, their capacity to corrupt societies, and their interaction with society. She pointed out that these goals might be achieved not just through deploying law enforcement approaches but with other policies including socioeconomic approaches to dealing with criminality.

The last speaker was Interim Chief Jim Pugel, acting chief of the Seattle Police Department. Chief Pugel described a program that puts many these concepts into practice: the Law Enforcement Diversion Program, or “LEAD”, operating in Seattle. The LEAD program is a comprehensive initiative championed by government and non-government, multi-agency and community partnership to divert non-violent, low level drug dealers away from jail and toward a productive life while making residents feel safer and saving money.

First he discussed some of the challenges law enforcement faced in Seattle that gave rise to the program, including business and resident complaints of street level drug dealing in the downtown area, pressure to arrest low level drug dealers, many of whom were ‘subsistence’ sellers, and concerns of disproportionate impact of these arrests on racial minorities – as the result of which the police department and prosecutors were sued. In the end, they realized that the system was very expensive for everyone involved, and did not produce results. To come up with a better solution for the community, numerous stakeholders, including ACLU, public defenders, police, prosecutors, elected officials, local businesses and community, came together, and, over an 18-month period, met to define the issues and agree on moving forward. The result was the LEAD program.

Chief Pugel then discussed the program including eligibility for LEAD (involving factors such as amount of drugs sold or possessed, whether the person is amenable to diversion, and whether the person exploits others or has committed a violent crime) and how it works: at the point of arrest, the officer offers the choice of going to jail or going to see a case manager. The case manager from a service provider performs an initial assessment at the police station, and within a week a 3-hour assessment is done. The program tries to meet the person’s needs on a holistic basis whether that entails treatment, housing or other services. Any treatment is harm reduction based, and a person can be in the program indefinitely.

A brief audience Q&A session followed the panel speaker presentations in which the discussion circled back to examples of “metrics that matter” – metrics based on community health, such as HIV/AIDS rates, drug-related violence (particularly homicides), and the level of penetration of criminal groups into political processes were cited as examples. The point was made that the difficulty of measuring “smarter” metrics should not deter us from using them – and that there were many indices already available such as the Human Developments Index.

The following day, Professor Bewley-Taylor and Dr. Felbab-Brown, along with Virginia Comolli, Research Associate for Transnational Threats at IISS, presented a similar program to an audience of US officials, security experts, members of the drug policy reform community and embassy personnel at IISS-US in Washington, DC. During his stay in New York, Chief Pugel also made a presentation on the LEAD program to a group of state prosecutors, district attorneys, public health professionals and law enforcement personnel from all over New York State in a meeting held by Drug Policy Alliance and Open Society Foundations, at OSF’s offices in New York City.

The full audio of Modernizing Drug Law Enforcement at UN Headquarters is available here and a video of the IISS-US event can be viewed here.

By Heather Haase, IDPC New York consultant

This post was originally published on the IDPC website