Pubdate: Tue, 20 Oct 2015
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2015 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Nigel Morris


'Decriminalise the Possession and Use of All Substances'

United Nations officials have called for the possession and use of 
all drugs to be decriminalised by governments, in a private report 
hailed as a "turning-point in drug policy reform".

But the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) immediately distanced 
itself from the controversial conclusions, which were leaked by the 
Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, and insisted they did not 
represent the UN's official position.

The briefing paper argues that criminalising drug use increases death 
rates among addicts and has led to the jailing of millions of people 
for non-violent offences.

It also warns of "high levels of discrimination" against drug-users 
and says the human rights of large numbers have been breached because 
they are illegally held in custody.

It concludes: "The international drug control conventions do not 
impose on member states obligations to criminalise drug use and 
possession for personal consumption. Member states should consider 
the implementation of measures to promote the right to health and to 
reduce prison overcrowding, including by decriminalising drug use and 
possession for personal consumption."

The paper is understood to have been written by Monica Beg, who heads 
the HIV/Aids section of the UNODC, which is based in Vienna.

Sir Richard, a member of the global commission on drugs policy, 
described the statement as a "refreshing shift that could go a long 
way to finally end the needless criminalisation of millions of 
drug-users around the world".

He said he was disclosing its details because its release had been 
vetoed just before it was due to be circulated at a conference in Malaysia.

The tycoon said: "I am hearing that at least one government is 
putting an inordinate amount of pressure on the UNODC. Let us hope 
the UNODC, a global organisation that is part of the UN and supposed 
to do what is right for the people of the world, does not do a 
remarkable volte-face at the last possible moment and bow to pressure 
by not going ahead with this important move."

The agency attempted to play down the significance of the document, 
with one source telling the BBC that its author was a "middle-ranking 
official" offering a professional viewpoint. In a statement, it said 
the paper was "neither a final nor formal document" as it was still 
under review and was not a policy statement.

"UNODC regrets that, on this occasion, there has been an unfortunate 
misunderstanding about the nature and intent of this briefing paper. 
UNODC emphatically denies reports there has been pressure on UNODC to 
withdraw the document. But it is not possible to withdraw what is not 
yet ready," it said.

"Overall, UNODC remains committed to the balanced approach that, in 
particular, promotes alternatives to incarceration in line with 
international human rights standards."

Danny Kushlick, the director of Transform Drug Policy Foundation, 
said: "This is a turning point in drug policy reform. The burden now 
lies with UNODC and the UK Government to show that the analysis in 
this briefing is wrong. To do this they would need to show that 
criminalising drug use is necessary, proportionate, doesn't cause ill 
health, violence and death, and conforms to international obligations 
towards health and human rights. They can't, because there is 
absolutely no evidence to contradict UNODC's own analysis."

The former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who has launched a 
campaign to persuade European Union leaders to back reform of drugs 
laws, said: "More and more people are waking up to the fact that the 
war on drugs has failed and it is time for a new approach.

"If we want to reduce the harm drugs do, it is time to stop seeing 
users as criminals to be locked up and start seeing them as people 
who need support and treatment."

The Green MP Caroline Lucas said: "This report shows clearly what was 
already plain to see: the war on drugs is failing. Prohibition is 
costing lives, as well as taxpay-Employing about 1,500 people around 
the world, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is 
charged with helping governments pool their resources to tackle the 
global drugs trade.

It also advises governments on compliance with international drugs 
conventions. The briefing paper pointed out that member states which 
decriminalised drug use and possession would not be in breach of 
those conventions.

The Vienna-based agency produces an annual report detailing changes 
in the production, trafficking and consumption of illicit substances 
regarded as the definitive picture of the international drugs market. 
The organisation, which describes itself as "a global leader in the 
fight against illicit drugs and international crime" was established 
in 1997 through a merger between the UN Drug Control Programme and 
the Centre for International Crime Prevention. Yuri Fedotov, the 
former Russian ambassador to Britain, has been its executive director 
since 2010. ers' money. It has created a situation in which some of 
the most marginalised people in our society are committing crime to 
fund their addiction. This leaked report from the UN adds further 
weight to calls from experts across the world calling on governments 
to rethink the criminalisation of addiction."

Responding to the UNODC's statement, Sir Richard said: "I challenge 
Yuri Fedotov, the executive director of UNODC, to point out if there 
is anything in their briefing paper that is inaccurate and to explain 
why [he should be proud of it]. The paper spells out in clear terms 
and based on extensive evidence: there are strong arguments for 
treating drugs as a health issue and not imprisoning or otherwise 
criminalising people for personal use or possession of drugs."

Last week, The Independent revealed that a Treasury analysis had 
established that legalising cannabis would raise taxes worth hundreds 
of millions of pounds and produce large savings for the criminal 
justice system. Yet following David Cameron's general election 
victory in May, the Government has set its face against reform of drugs laws.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom