Pubdate: Tue, 19 Apr 2016
Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Copyright: 2016 The Sydney Morning Herald
Author: Greg Chipp
Note: Greg Chipp is CEO of Drug Policy Australia.


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 years since the use, availability and variety of illicit drugs 
have escalated exponentially. It is estimated by the UK charity 
Transform Foundation that 300 million people worldwide used illegal 
drugs in 2012, contributing to a global market worth $US330 billion a year.

The vision of a drug-free world has faded. We are instead presented 
with a nightmare scenario, where a multi-billion 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 nonviolent 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 $US100 billion a year.

By 2014, UN member states, including Mexico and Colombia, considered 
the unintended consequences of the UN Drug Control Conventions so 
catastrophic they called on the UN to hold a special session 
dedicated to the world's drug problem. Starting Tuesday  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 talks will have an immediate flow 
on effect to changes in drug policy being contemplated in Australia 
and around the world.

The Drug Control Conventions ignore alcohol and tobacco, the two most 
widely used and deadly drugs, but require member states to control 
the possession of an evergrowing schedule of drugs and precursors 
regardless of their relative harmfulness. The 50-year-old UN 
conventions are out of step with the modern world. For example, they 
classify cannabis as a narcotic of extremely limited therapeutic 
value, listing it on the most restricted Schedule IV alongside 
heroin. This is despite the scientific evidence that acknowledges 
cannabis' enormous medical potential.

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".

Last month, 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 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.

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. America has fully legalised cannabis 
in four states, as has Uruguay. Canada and others have stated their 
intention to do so later 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 
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 assembly reaffirms the 
status quo, as seems likely, a chance will have been lost to resolve 
one of our great health and human rights issues.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom