The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), enforcer of the global drug prohibition regime embodied in the United Nations Single Conventions of 1961, 1971, and 1988, issued its annual report this week, and it has clearly identified the enemy: the global drug reform movement. With an international movement to reform or repeal the UN conventions growing in breadth and strength, the UN narcocrats are clearly hunkering down for a battle in Vienna in April -- and beyond.
INCB President Philip Emafo came out swinging in the forward to the annual report, warning of "distractions" coming "from groups that advocate legalization or decriminalization of drug offences" and "groups that favor a crusade focusing only on 'harm minimization' or 'harm reduction.'" Such groups persist in proclaiming there are safe ways to do drugs, wrote Emafo, "contary to all available evidence."
"Supporters of such legalization pursue their goals through aggressive, well-funded campaigns and with missionary zeal," Emafo continued. "Their arguments, however, do not reflect the truth. The truth is that there are no safe ways to abuse drugs." Therefore, he concluded, "states should not give up and allow advocates of legalization to take control of their national drug policies. Governments should not be intimidated by a vocal minority that wants to legalize illicit drug use."
Just in case anyone should misunderstand the INCB's point, the annual report took pains to express "concern" about moves to legalize or decriminalize marijuana in Canada and warned of dire "worldwide repercussions" from Britain's rescheduling of cannabis. The INCB also expressed concern about medical marijuana in the Netherlands "before research into the medical properties of the drug is finalized." So, too, was the INCB "concerned" about Swiss safe injection and safe inhalation rooms, worrying aloud that such moves might be "contrary to international drug control treaties."
On the other hand, the INCB noted with approval that while "in several states of the United States discussions on liberalizing or legalizing cannabis continue, the Board appreciates that the Government continues to assure that national laws in line with the international drug control treaties are enforced in all states." In other words, kudos to Attorney General John Ashcroft for cracking down on medical marijuana in California.
Unsurprisingly, the INCB annual report went over like a paraquat-laced joint with drug reformers. From Britain, criticized by the INCB, the Transform Drug Policy Institute's (http://www.tdpi.org.uk) Danny Kushlick, replied: "UN drug control policy reflects outdated and discredited US prohibitionist thinking. The INCB seem determined to stamp on any reforms that challenge this prevailing ideology, even when there is strong evidence that such policies can be highly effective. By contrast there is no evidence that the UN Drug Control Program's focus on enforcement and eradication has been successful. Despite the billions spent over the past four decades, illegal drugs are cheaper and more available than ever before. In the light of such striking failure we have to question the credibility of the entire UN drug control system.
"If the UK move on cannabis sends out a message it is that the UN treaties are outdated and in need of a major rethink," Kushlick continued. "The UN drug control agencies are being left behind by the innovative policy developments taking place across mainland Europe, as well as in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, all of whom have received criticism from the INCB."
From Amsterdam, the Transnational Institute seconded that opinion. "Mr. Emafo's attack reflects how out of touch the president of the INCB is with current developments in international drug control. If anyone is involved in a 'crusade' with 'missionary zeal', it is Mr. Emafo himself, trying to turn back accepted best practices in countering the adverse effects of problematic drug use," TNI wrote in a press release.
From Brussels, Member of the European Parliament and leader of Parliamentarians for Antiprohibitionist Action Marco Cappato joined the critical chorus. "The INCB Report for 2002 contains widespread criticism and attacks on Member States and alternative policies on drugs. The foreword is used to launch a crusade against those who support alternative policies on drugs, from harm reduction to legalisation. Governments that have established injection rooms are accused of 'aiding and abetting drug abuse (and possibly illicit drug trafficking),'" he noted in a statement responding to the report.
"INCB criticism and attacks are unreasonable, incorrect and ultimately illegal," Cappato continued. "Unreasonable because current Member States' policies on drugs do not contravene UN Conventions. Incorrect because the legal provisions of the Conventions are misinterpreted to attack any attempt by Member States to develop alternative policies on drugs. But most importantly illegal because INCB goes -- once more -- beyond its statutory duties, notably in attacking supporters of alternative policies on drugs."
And from Washington, NORML Foundation executive director Allen St. Pierre called the UN's comments "pure hyperbole," noting that the UK's pending pot law change would only apply to the possession of up to three grams of marijuana, and have no legal impact on marijuana cultivation. "To those who blindly support US-styled 'do drugs; do time' policies, any variance -- no matter how minor -- is seen as a threat to their longstanding blanket prohibition," he said.
Beyond laying into the INCB report, reformers are looking forward to the April meeting in Vienna, where the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs will evaluate progress at the halfway point in the UN's 10-year plan to make the planet drug-free by 2008 and set direction for the next five years.
"The UK now finds itself amongst the group of European countries that includes Holland, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and Portugal that are going to be getting flak at the Vienna meeting," said Transform's Kushlick. "In their eyes we have become a pariah state. It's a ridiculous situation since the UN drug agencies should be facilitating innovative evidence based policy developments, not hindering them."
For Marco Cappato, "the UN Vienna Conference of April -- charged with evaluating if the announced objectives of the current UN prohibitionist strategies have been met -- will demonstrate who is right and who is wrong." Cappato is heading an appeal to end drug prohibition and reform the UN conventions, already signed by more than 189 legislators and 3,000 global citizens.
"At the upcoming mid-term review of the 1998 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) on April 16-17, 2003 member states should use the opportunity to have the harm reduction approach accepted as a legitimate policy alternative within the UN Drug system," argued the Transnational Institute.
Events leading up to Vienna are scheduled for next week. The International Coalition of NGOs for a Just and Effective Drug Policy will launch its International Campaign "Spread the Seed for Another Drug Policy" aimed at reform of the UN conventions in Brussels on Monday by launching hundreds of balloons filled with opium, cannabis, and coca seeds. The following day, the coalition will hold a public hearing at European Parliament on prospects for change at Vienna. "The goal of the campaign is to convince European politicians of the need to present, at the forthcoming meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, a proposal for a new international agreement that should allow individual countries to regulate the production, distribution and consumption of drugs without necessarily maintaining prohibition as the basis for these measures," wrote the coalition.
Visit http://www.incb.org/e/ind_ar.htm to read the INCB report.
Visit http://www.tni.org/drugs/reports/brief4.pdf to read the Transnational Institute's critique of the INCB.
Visit http://www.radicalparty.org/lia_paa_appeal/ to read the text of the International Appeal for the Reform the UN Conventions on Drugs and view the list of signatories.
Visit http://www.vienna2003.org for further information about the NGO coalition campaign.