Pubdate: Sat, 01 Mar 2008 Source: West Coast Leaf (CA) Contact: 2008 West Coast Leaf and Creative Xpressions Website: http://www.westcoastleaf.com Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/4715 Authors: Deb Harper and Mikki Norris INTERNATIONAL NGO FORUM TAKES ISSUE WITH UN's INTOLERANT DRUG WAR TACTICS An international forum to discuss United Nations drug policy, held in Vancouver, BC Canada on Feb. 4 and 5, aired sharp criticism of the current global Drug War. The second of two "Beyond 2008: North America Regional Consultations" took place to provide the UN drug control bodies, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with public input on the effectiveness of international drug strategies over the last decade. Nearly 100 delegates representing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from the US and Canada and involved in the health, treatment, prevention, criminal justice, human rights, alternative development, prohibitionist and consumer sectors assembled for the two-day forum at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. The Forum's agenda was to highlight achievements; review the practice and collaboration of NGOs, governments and UN agencies; and adopt a series of principles to serve as a guide for future deliberations on drug policy. The slogan adopted as the 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS), "A Drug Free World - We can do it!" in 2008 was noticeably absent, replaced with "the achievement of 'significant and measurable results'." Delegates reviewed The 1961 Single Convention Treaty, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances as background for discussion in the sessions and to learn about the system of global drug control and regulation. Overwhelming, the vast majority of participants expressed dissatisfaction with these treaties by raising issues and giving examples of the failure and destructiveness of current drug policies. Speakers called for the need for harm reduction, public health, evidence-based approaches and adherence to principles of human rights to determine drug strategy. Taking it a step further, Craig Jones of the John Howard Society of Canada called for the renunciation of the UN drug conventions and denounced current prohibition-based drug policy as "the cure that is worse than the disease." Craig claimed, "It's a dysfunctional and destructive form of harm maximization that benefits only organized crime and police agencies." Former undercover narcotics officer Jack Cole, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, couldn't agree more. Cole garnered much media attention in Canada, including a front-page article in the conservative paper, The Province. Under the headline, "The War On Drugs Is A Dismal Failure, " Cole stated, "Despite all the lives we have destroyed and all the money so ill-spent, today illicit drugs are cheaper, more potent and easier to get than they were 35 years ago and more people are dying in the streets at the hands of drug barons. Right now, criminals are telling us what drugs are going to be supplied, how those drugs will be cut, what they will cost and who's going to be selling to 10-year-olds. We need to treat drug addiction as a health problem... We have to at least get legalization and regulation of drugs on the agenda," he said. This was a far cry from the first North American Regional Consultation, pushed by Drug Free America Foundation and Supporting UN Drug Initiatives and Legislation (SUNDIAL) in St. Petersburg, Florida in January. During the forum, Dale Gieringer of Cal NORML expressed dissatisfaction with having to travel to another country to have his voice heard because the first conference was only open to prohibitionists. Gillian Maxwell of Keeping the Door Open: Dialogues on Drug Use, a local community coalition that cosponsored the forum with The Centre for Addictions Research of BC, wanted to make sure this was not the case in Vancouver. Former Mayor Philip Owen, pioneer of Vancouver's famed four-pillar approach to drug policy (prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and law enforcement), reinforced the need for a new approach to drugs. For the early risers, Maxwell gave a tour of North America's only onsite safe injection facility, InSite. UNODC Chief of Policy Analysis and Research Sandeep Chawla represented the UN and reminded attendees that the voices the UN hears are from national delegates who attend the meetings and suggested that if people want to change treaties, they have to change the governments that represent them. The next step is to combine reports from the regional consultations held around the world for a final NGO meeting in Vienna in July, "Beyond 2008 - A Global Forum on the 1998-2008 Review of the UNGASS on Illicit Drugs." Participation will be limited to 300 delegates. The final meeting to consider future directions for international drug control policy will take place in March 2009. On the social side, Vancouver's Mayor Sam Sullivan hosted a reception, and Vancouver activists David Malmo-Levine, Rielle Capler, Kirk Tousaw, Rene Boje, Michelle Rainey, Dana Larsen, and Marc Emery extended their hospitality with parties and informal get togethers at the Herb Museum, the new Shakti Lounge, Vancouver Seed Bank and Vapor Lounge, and the BCMP Vapor Lounge. See vngoc.org for online information on this topic. Deb Harper was a delegate for the Cannabis Coalition of Canada, cannabiscoalition.ca; Mikki Norris for Human Rights and the Drug War, hr95.org.