Pubdate: Sat, 01 Mar 2008
Source: West Coast Leaf (CA)
Contact:  2008 West Coast Leaf and Creative Xpressions
Authors: Deb Harper and Mikki Norris


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 for online information on this topic. Deb Harper was a 
delegate for the Cannabis Coalition of Canada,; 
Mikki Norris for Human Rights and the Drug War,