Pubdate: Tue, 19 Apr 2016
Source: Age, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2016 The Age Company Ltd
Author: Greg Chipp
Note: Greg Chipp is chief executive of Drug Policy Australia.


World leaders have an opportunity to act on the global drug problem 
that causes untold human suffering and costs billions a year.

The discussions will have an immediate flow-on effect to changes in 
drug policy being contemplated in Australia and around the world.

In 1998, a special session of the United Nations General Assembly 
agreed to set a 10-year deadline to make the world "drug free". After 
an embarrassing failure to achieve this goal, the deadline was 
extended a further 10 years, setting the world up for another 
inevitable failure in 2019.

In the intervening years, the use, availability and variety of 
illicit drugs have escalated exponentially. It is estimated by 
British charity Transform Foundation that 300 million people 
worldwide used illegal drugs in 2012, contributing to a global market 
with a turnover of $ 330 billion a year.

The vision of a drug-free world has faded. We are instead presented 
with a nightmare scenario in which a multibillion-dollar black market 
funds organised crime and terrorist organisations.

In pursuing a drug-free world, national governments have unwittingly 
been responsible for the incarceration of millions of non-violent 
drug offenders; heightened HIV and hepatitis epidemics; restricted 
access to morphine pain relief for 75 per cent of the world's 
population; human rights abuses; and avoidable loss of life.

Apart from the human suffering caused by prohibition, the economic 
cost beggars belief. Estimates by Transform put the total expenditure 
on enforcing global prohibition at more than $ 100 billion a year.

By 2014, some UN member states, including Mexico and Colombia, 
considered the unintended consequences of the UN Drug Control 
Conventions to be so catastrophic that they called on the UN to hold 
a special session dedicated to the world's drug problem.

Starting on April 19 - 18 years after the 1998 United Nations General 
Assembly Special Session on Drugs ( UNGASS)  world leaders will again 
gather to discuss the global drug problem.

UNGASS 2016 is an opportunity to reassess the utility and usefulness 
of the three UN drug control conventions that provide the legal and 
moral foundation for global drug prohibition.

Although it cannot alter the conventions, the discussions will have 
an immediate flow-on effect to changes in drug policy being 
contemplated in Australia and around the world.

Currently the drug control conventions simply ignore alcohol and 
tobacco, the two most widely used and deadly drugs, but require 
member states to control the possession of an ever-growing schedule 
of drugs and precursors, regardless of their relative harmfulness. 
The only exception is for medical or scientific purposes.

The 50-year-old conventions are out of step with the modern world. 
For example, the UN conventions classify cannabis as a narcotic of 
extremely limited therapeutic value, listing it on the most 
restricted Schedule IV alongside heroin.

This is at odds with the latest scientific evidence that acknowledges 
cannabis' enormous medical potential and that it has been prescribed 
as such for many years in the US and other jurisdictions.

However, moves to thwart progress at the 2016 special session started 
at preliminary debates in April 2015, where the US sent a delegate to 
argue that policy reforms should fit " within the framework of the 
three United Nations drug control conventions".

In other words, the US position is that there should be no change to 
the three drug conventions, which is a prerequisite for any substantive reform.

More recently, on March 23, the 59th Session of the Commission on 
Narcotic Drugs met in Vienna and agreed to a draft outcome document, 
which will form the basis of the UNGASS 2016 agenda and debate.

This outcome document fails to distinguish between drug use and drug 
abuse, excludes alcohol and affirms the delusionary call in the 2009 
Political Declaration on the World Drug Problem to "eventually 
eliminate the availability and use of illicit drugs and psychotropic 
substances in order to ensure the health and welfare of humankind".

Even more disappointing is that the Vienna draft outcome document 
focuses on demand and supply reduction but fails to mention " harm 
reduction" as a viable means to address the health consequences of 
drug use. This is in contrast to many member states and non- 
government organisations that call for substantive reform.

Compared to 1961, when the first of the UN conventions was ratified, 
the world is now a different place. Alternatives to prohibition drug 
policies exist in Portugal, which has decriminalised all drugs 
without the dire consequences predicted.

The US, the home of prohibition, has fully legalised cannabis in four 
states, as has a sovereign country, Uruguay. Canada and other 
countries have stated their intention to do so this year.

It is agreed, even among the most zealous, that a "drug-free world" 
is an impossible dream. Neither governments nor the UN, nor even 
loving parents, can stop young people using drugs. All we can do as a 
society, as parents, is make it as safe as possible when they do use drugs.

If traditional interests hold sway at UNGASS 2016 and this grand 
assembly of good men and women reaffirm the status quo, as seems 
likely, an opportunity will have been lost to resolve one of the 
great health and human rights issues of our time.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom