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Colombian Coca Cultivation Ticks Upward

Coca cultivation in Colombia was on the rise again last year for the first time since 2007, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) latest annual Colombia Survey. The survey, which is based on satellite and aerial surveillance photography, estimated that coca planting spread to 158,000 acres last year, up 3% over the previous year. 

coca plant (UNODC)
While representing a new tick upward, last year's acreage devoted to coca cultivation was still well below the 403,000 acres planted in 2000, the year President Bill Clinton's Plan Colombia kicked in. Since then, the US has spent more than $7 billion in its effort to wipe out the coca crop and the cocaine traffic derived from it.

Despite the US assistance, Colombia has been unable to eliminate either the coca crop or the cocaine trade. Powerful armed groups, including the peasant guerrilla army of the FARC on the left and various paramilitary groups on the right, continue to profit from the trade while battling (or colluding with) the Colombian state.

UNODC also found that despite the increase in the area under cultivation, the amount of cocaine produced last year was 1% less than in 2010. Colombia produced 345 tons of cocaine last year, almost exactly as much as Peru did, leaving the two countries in a dead heat in the race to be named the world's number one cocaine producer. Bolivia was third.

The biggest increases in coca cultivation were in Putumayo and Caqueta departments near the border with Ecuador, where the FARC still maintains a strong presence. And more than 60% of cultivation is located in only four departments -- Narino, Putomayo, Guaviare, and Cauca -- where the FARC and the paramilitaries fight for control over crops and smuggling routes.

"That area has always been pretty ungoverned, it is basically wired for getting drugs out," said Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America. "The 2011 results make apparent that momentum toward reduced coca-growing has once again stalled," he told Reuters.

Colombia

UN Anti-Drug Body Supports Overdose Prevention Measures

Delegates to the 55th session of the UN Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND) in Vienna unanimously approved a resolution to promote measures to prevent drug overdose deaths last Friday. The resolution calls on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and other international organizations to work with individual countries to address and reduce drug overdoses. Crucially, the resolution included mention of naloxone, an opioid antagonist that can effectively reverse opiate overdoses and which does not carry any danger of abuse.

Naloxone can save lives, the CND recognized Friday (wikimedia.org)
The resolution was introduced by the Czech Republic and cosponsored by Israel and Denmark (the latter on behalf of the European Union). Earlier in the week, Gil Kerlikowske, head of the US Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) affirmed US support for overdose prevention. In his opening statement at the week-long session, Kerlikowske endorsed training public health and medical personnel in overdose recognition and response, as well as the use of naloxone and other overdose reversal medications.

"Every life is worth saving," said Dasha Ocheret, policy and advocacy program manager for the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network. "Everyone knows someone who has died from an overdose. It's thrilling that the United Nations recognizes this is a problem to be taken seriously and something can be done."

"This represents a critical step towards improving global public health," said Donald McPherson, director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and former drug policy coordinator for the city of Vancouver. "The global overdose epidemic can be addressed with meaningful, evidence-based interventions to reduce the immediate potential harms associated with opioid use, and prevent unnecessary death. It is heartening to witness CND member countries take this step together to save lives."

The biggest risk of fatal overdose is around opiates and opioid pain medications. According to the UNODC, "the ingestion of opioids accounts for nearly half of the global drug-related deaths, and the majority of deaths could have been prevented." The UNODC puts the number of user of opium derivatives, both medical and non-medical, at around 21 million worldwide.

Opioid overdose deaths are generally preventable for three reasons: The deaths occur gradually after drug use, there are typically other people present, and the effects of overdose can be reversed with naloxone, also known under its brand name, Narcan.

In some countries, including some states in the US, there are ongoing programs to offer naloxone to drug users, their friends, and family members. Last fall, Massachusetts announced its 1,000th overdose reversal using naloxone. New Mexico has also been a pioneer in expanding the use of naloxone.

"Naloxone is a safe and effective medication that has been available for more than forty years," said Sharon Stancliff of the New York City-based Harm Reduction Coalition. "It's exciting that the UN has officially recognized the importance of making this life-saving medication more widely available. It is vital that it is made accessible to people who need it, both inside the hospital setting and outside, through emergency services and to family members of opioid users."

Vienna
Austria

Morales Defends Coca-Chewing at UN Anti-Drug Meeting

Holding a coca leaf in his hand, Bolivian President Evo Morales Monday told a United Nations anti-drug meeting that Bolivians had the right to chew coca leaves, saying coca was not cocaine and that its use by Bolivians was an ancient tradition.

Bolivian President Evo Morales (wikimedia.org)
"We are not drug addicts when we consume the coca leaf. The coca leaf is not cocaine, we have to get rid of this misconception," he said in a speech that generated applause in the hall. "This is a millennia-old tradition in Bolivia and we would hope that you will understand that coca leaf producers are not drug dealers," the one-time coca growers' union leader added.

"We are very much aware of the damage that can be done by cocaine and we are working against drug trafficking... but we want the recognition of these ancestral rights," Morales said.

Morales was speaking at the annual meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. Bolivia has taken issue with coca's inclusion in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Last year, it announced it was withdrawing from the treaty over the issue, and on January 1, Bolivia rejoined, but with the reservation that it recognized coca chewing.

Whether Bolivia will gain support from enough other countries to do that remains unclear. Under the treaty, the other countries that are signatories have one year to consider Bolivia's reservation. Unless one-third of them -- 62 countries -- object, the reservation "shall be deemed to be permitted."

In remarks reported by Reuters, Yury Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Crime and Drugs (UNODC), told a news conference in Vienna there was substantial opposition to Bolivia's move.

"We know that some countries already conveyed to us their strong opposition," he said, adding that he feared allowing Bolivia to make an exception for coca could cause "a domino effect."

Fedotov's fellow countryman, Victor Ivanov, head of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, also spoke against the Bolivian move, saying "[w]e need to do everything we can against legalizing drugs."

Bolivia is the world's third largest coca and cocaine producer, behind Peru and Colombia. The Morales government has been trying to promote coca-based industries, with everything from coca tea and chewing gum to coca bread, while at the same time it is cooperating internationally with efforts to suppress the cocaine trade.

Bolivians have chewed coca leaves for thousands of years. Its mild stimulant effects take the edge off hunger and mitigate altitude sickness, and Bolivia is adamant that its traditional uses be recognized and the plant removed from the Single Convention.

Vienna
Austria

Iran Executed Nearly 500 Drug Offenders Last Year

The Norwegian-based human rights group Iran Human Rights (IHR) has presented its annual report on the death penalty in the Islamic Republic and announce that at least 676 people were executed there last year. Of those, 480, or 71%, were executed for drug offenses, IHR said.

public mass execution in Iran, 2008 (ncr-iran.org)
The count of 676 executions was based on information reported by official Iranian news, other independent sources, or high-ranking officials in the Iranian judiciary. IHR said that the actual number of executions is "probably much higher" than that figure.

Of the 676 executions tallied by IHR, only 416, or 62%, were reported by official media or high-ranking officials. The group said some executions are not announced by state media, but lawyers and family members were notified prior to the execution. In other cases of "secret" executions, not even family and lawyers are notified. IHR left more than 70 additional reported executions off its tally because of difficulty in confirming details.

Drug offenses were far and away the most common death penalty charges. More than five times as many people were hung for drug crimes as for rape (13%) and more than 10 times as many as for murder (7%). Some 4% were executed for being "enemies of God," 1% for acts against chastity, and in 3% of the cases, no charge was made public.

Situated next door to Afghanistan, supplier of nearly 90% of the world's illicit opium and heroin, Iran has been waging a fierce "war on drugs" against smugglers and traffickers transiting the country on the way to European markets. But much of that opium and heroin is destined for Iran itself, which suffers one of the world's highest opiate addiction rates.

While China, the world's leading executioner state, may execute more drug offenders -- the numbers are hard to come by because China doesn't report them -- Iran leads the world in executions per capita, both for drug offenses and all offenses combined.

Last year, IHR helped launch the International Campaign Against the Death Penalty in Iran. More broadly, Harm Reduction International has an ongoing Death Penalty Project aimed at the 32 countries that have laws on the books allowing the death penalty for drug offenses. Opponents of the death penalty for drug offenses argue that such statutes violate UN human rights laws, which say the death penalty can be applied only for "the most serious crimes."

Iran

INCB Attacks Bolivia on Coca Stance

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/leaves-drying-in-warehouse.jpg
Drying the leaves in the warehouse. The sign reads ''Coca Power and Territory, Dignity and Sovereignty, Regional Congress 2006-08'' (photo by the author)
In its 2011 Annual Report, the International Narcotics Control Board, which monitors the implementation of international drug control treaties, has attacked Bolivia over that country's effort to defend the traditional uses of the coca plant. The INCB "noted with regret" that Bolivia had withdrawn from the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs because the treaty considers coca a drug and rejoined the treaty in January with a "reservation" saying it would not honor the portion of the treaty dealing with coca.

Coca is the plant from which cocaine is derived, but Bolivians have been using the coca leaf for thousands of years and consider it part of their national patrimony. Bolivia is the third largest producer of coca and cocaine, after Peru and Colombia.

Under the treaty, the other countries that are signatories have one year to consider Bolivia's reservation. Unless one-third of them -- 62 countries -- object, the reservation "shall be deemed to be permitted." That would mark the first chink in the armor of the UN anti-drug conventions, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition.

The INCB said it was "concerned that, while the denunciation itself may be technically permitted under the Convention, it is contrary to the fundamental object and spirit of the Convention." If other states were to follow Bolivia's "unprecedented" rejection of portions of the treaty, "the integrity of the international drug control system would be undermined and the achievements of the past 100 years in drug control would be compromised," the INCB said.

But the INCB's attack on Bolivia did not go unchallenged. In a joint press release Tuesday, the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) slammed the INCB for its "stubborn combination of incompetence and overreach." The board's harsh response "begs the question of why the board is so afraid," the groups said.

"Why does the board consider the international drug conventions to be so fragile?" asked WOLA senior associate John Walsh. "How do one country’s legitimate efforts to reconcile its treaty obligations with its own constitutional requirements represent an existential threat to the entire system in the eyes of the INCB?"

lime spoons, coastal Inka, Peru, mid-15th to 16th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art
"The INCB operates under a completely misplaced and self-inflated sense of infallibility that they apparently believe absolves them of any responsibility to base their inquisitorial judgments on rational arguments," said Martin Jelsma, coordinator of TNI's Drugs & Democracy program.

The two groups noted that a stance such as the one Bolivia is taking is legal under the convention and cited the official commentary on the 1961 Single Convention: "A Party may reserve the right to permit the non-medical uses as provided in article 49, paragraph 1, of the drugs mentioned therein, but also non-medical uses of other drugs, without being subject to the time limits and restrictions provided for in article 49."

"The INCB response is another clear sign that the UN drug control regime is under strain and that the cracks in the so-called 'Vienna consensus' are approaching a breaking point," said Jelsma."It is a sign that its principal guardian, the INCB, is in distress and no longer capable of responding to challenges in a rational manner."

Vienna
Austria

Video: "Count the Costs of the War on Drugs," Events in Five European Capitals

Actions organized by the European Drug Policy Initiative in Sofia, Bucharest, Warsaw, Oslo and Porto -- part of the "Count the Costs of the War on Drugs" campaign, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs:

Click here for more information, including a short promo video for the campaign.

Bolivia to Buy Up Excess Coca Production

The Bolivian government will buy up legally produced "excess" coca to prevent it from leaking into the cocaine trade, Vice Minister of Social Defense Felipe Caceres said last week. The government will use funds from the treasury to make the purchases, Caceres said in remarks reported by the Bolivian newspaper La Razon.

Cultivating coca in the Chapare. (photo by the author)
The announced plan is part of a broader strategy to combat cocaine trafficking. It seeks to reduce coca cultivation from the estimated current 30,900 hectares (only 12,000 of which are legal under existing law) to 20,000 hectares.

A government study of licit coca consumption, which would provide the basis for estimating the size of the licit coca crop, is set for release in September, but Caceres said the study will estimate the area of licit cultivation at about 16,000 hectares.

For political reasons -- to keep President Evo Morales' power base among Chapare coca growers happy -- the government will allow the excess production up to 20,000 hectares and just buy it up.

"We will buy all that coca so that it is not diverted to the drug trade, to become raw material for drugs, with resources from the general treasury of the nation," Caceres said. Cultivation above 20,000 hectares would be manually eradicated, he added.

Bolivia is the world's third largest coca producer -- behind Peru and Colombia -- and some significant portion of that crop is destined to become cocaine smoked in the favelas of Brazil or snorted in the drawing rooms of Europe. While actively combating the cocaine traffic, the Morales government is determined to support traditional coca consumption and cultivation as part of Bolivia's national heritage.

Earlier this year, Bolivia withdrew -- at least temporarily -- from the United Nations 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs because of its inclusion of the plant in its list of proscribed substances. Coca is not a drug, it's a plant, Bolivia maintains. The government indicated when announcing its withdrawal from the treaty that it would rejoin in a year, signing on to all the treaty provisions except the proscription on coca.

La Paz
Bolivia

Bolivia to Quit United Nations Drug Convention Over Coca

lime powder container (used traditionally in coca chewing), 1st-7th-century, Colombia (Quimbaya), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Bolivia is preparing to withdraw from the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to protest its classification of coca leaves as an illegal drug. A law that would do just that has already passed the lower chamber of Congress and is likely to pass in the Senate, where the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party of President Evo Morales has a two-thirds majority.

The Congress is acting at the request of Morales, a coca union leader. His government sought late last year to amend the convention to reclassify coca leaf, but that effort failed in January, so now Bolivia will withdraw from the convention altogether.

Coca leaf has been used for thousands of years in the Andes, and Bolivia has long argued that coca in its natural state is not an illegal drug, just a plant with traditional, therapeutic, and industrial uses. The Bolivian constitution obligates the government to preserve and protect the chewing of coca leaves as a cultural heritage and ancestral practice.

Under the draft law, which has already passed the lower chamber of Congress and is likely to pass in the Senate, where Morales's party has a two-thirds majority, Bolivia would keep its international obligations in the fight against drug trafficking. Foreign minister David Choquehuanca said the country could rejoin the convention next year, but with a reservation: that it be allowed to consume coca legally.

lime spoons, coastal Inka, Peru, mid-15th to 16th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art
"This is an attempt to keep the cultural and inoffensive practice of coca chewing and to respect human rights, but not just of indigenous people, because this is an ancient practice of all Bolivian people," Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told the British newspaper The Guardian Thursday.

Bolivia is the world's third largest coca producer behind Colombia and Peru. Much of the production is diverted into cocaine destined primarily for Brazilian and European markets. Bolivia has intensified its fight against drug trafficking, but says it is fighting a losing battle as long as demand for cocaine remains high in the West.

La Paz
Bolivia

Every Major News Outlet is Talking About Legalizing Drugs

To get a sense of the magnitude of the discussion that's happening right now, just try entering the phrase "Drug War FAIL" into Google. Pretty impressive, huh? This story from the Associated Press is showing up everywhere you look:

Major Panel: Drug War Failed; Legalize Marijuana

A high-level international panel slammed the war on drugs as a failure Thursday and called on governments to undertake experiments to decriminalize the use of drugs, especially marijuana, to undermine the power of organized crime.

Compiled by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the report concludes that criminalization and repressive measures have failed with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.
 

As you might imagine, the drug war's defenders were a little less than impressed:

The office of White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said the report was misguided.

"Drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated. Making drugs more available — as this report suggests — will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe," Office of National Drug Control Policy spokesman Rafael Lemaitre said.

So say the geniuses whose best idea for stopping you from rolling a joint is to cuff your hands behind your back. It's an awfully crappy day to be professionally responsible for pretending the drug war is awesome, and I can't help but wonder what effect the accumulation of moments like this exerts on the mindset of those who've made it their business to publicly defend generations of mindless death and destruction.

With very few exceptions, the drug war's remaining apologists should be privately relieved to witness the emerging consensus for reform. Soon perhaps, a day will come when you are no longer called upon to excuse the inexcusable. Soon perhaps, those of you who feel a genuine passion for making your communities safer will be able to pursue your ideals without bearing the burden of the drug war's constant betrayal. Soon perhaps, we can talk openly about what works and what doesn't without key stakeholders having a reason to fear and distrust one another.

Anyone who thinks it's possible to do a much better job dealing with drug use on this planet should be excited about the conversation that's happening today.

Big Name Panel Calls Global Drug War a "Failure" [FEATURE]

The global war on drugs is a failure and governments worldwide should shift from repressive, law-enforcement centered policies to new ways of legalizing and regulating drugs, especially marijuana, as a means of reducing harm to individuals and society, a high-profile group of world leaders said in a report issued last Thursday.

Richard Branson blogs about being invited onto the global commission, on virgin.com.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose members include former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, said the global prohibitionist approach to drug policy, in place since the UN adopted the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs a half-century ago, has failed to reduce either the drug supply or consumption.

Citing UN figures, the report said global marijuana consumption rose more than 8% and cocaine use 27% in the decade between 1998 and 2008. Again citing UN figures, the group estimated that there are some 250 million illegal drug consumers worldwide. "We simply cannot treat them all as criminals," the report concluded.

The report also argued that arresting "tens of millions" of low-level dealers, drug couriers, and drug-producing farmers not only failed to reduce production and consumption, but also failed to address the economic needs that pushed people into the trade in the first place.

Prohibitionist approaches also foster violence, most notably in the case of Mexico, the group argued, and impede efforts to stop the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. Governments should instead turn to science- and evidence-based public health and harm reduction approaches, the group said. It cited studies of nations like Portugal and Australia, where the decriminalization of at least some drugs has not led to significantly greater use.

"Overwhelming evidence from Europe, Canada and Australia now demonstrates the human and social benefits both of treating drug addiction as a health rather than criminal justice problem and of reducing reliance on prohibitionist policies," said former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss. "These policies need to be adopted worldwide, with requisite changes to the international drug control conventions."

The report offered a number of recommendations for global drug policy reform, including:

  • End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.
  • Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs (especially cannabis) to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.
  • Ensure that a variety of treatment modalities are available -- including not just methadone and buprenorphine treatment but also the heroin-assisted treatment programs that have proven successful in many European countries and Canada.
  • Apply human rights and harm reduction principles and policies both to people who use drugs as well as those involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers.

"Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government's global war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed," said former president of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso. "Let's start by treating drug addiction as a health issue, reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives, and legally regulating rather than criminalizing cannabis."

"The war on drugs has failed to cut drug usage, but has filled our jails, cost millions in tax payer dollars, fuelled organized crime and caused thousands of deaths. We need a new approach, one that takes the power out of the hands of organized crime and treats people with addiction problems like patients, not criminals," said Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and cofounder of The Elders, United Kingdom. "The good news is new approaches focused on regulation and decriminalization have worked. We need our leaders, including business people, looking at alternative, fact based approaches. We need more humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs. The one thing we cannot afford to do is to go on pretending the war on drugs is working."

The Obama administration is having none of it. "Making drugs more available -- as this report suggests -- will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe," Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy told the Wall Street Journal the same day the report was released.

That sentiment is in line with earlier pronouncements from the administration that while it will emphasize a public health approach to drug policy, it stands firm against legalization. "Legalizing dangerous drugs would be a profound mistake, leading to more use, and more harmful consequences," drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said earlier this year.

But if the White House isn't listening, US drug reformers are -- and they're liking what they're hearing.

"It's no longer a question of whether legalizing drugs is a serious topic of debate for serious people," said Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a 34-year veteran police officer from Baltimore, Maryland. "These former presidents and other international leaders have placed drug legalization squarely on the table as an important solution that policymakers need to consider. As a narcotics cop on the streets, I saw how the prohibition approach not only doesn't reduce drug abuse but how it causes violence and crime that affect all citizens and taxpayers, whether they use drugs or not."

"These prominent world leaders recognize an undeniable reality. The use of marijuana, which is objectively less harmful than alcohol, is widespread and will never be eliminated," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "They acknowledge that there are only two choices moving forward. We can maintain marijuana's status as a wholly illegal substance and steer billions of dollars toward drug cartels and other criminal actors. Or, we can encourage nations to make the adult use of marijuana legal and have it sold in regulated stores by legitimate, taxpaying business people. At long last, we have world leaders embracing the more rational choice and advocating for legal, regulated markets for marijuana. We praise these world leaders for their willingness to advocate for this sensible approach to marijuana policy."

"The long-term impact of the Global Commission's efforts will be defining," predicted David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "Most people don't realize that there are leaders of this stature who believe prohibition causes much of the harm commonly seen as due to drugs. As more and more people hear these arguments, coming from some of the most credible people on the planet, legalization will come to be viewed as a credible and realistic option."

Other commission members include Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Canada; Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil (chair); Marion Caspers-Merk, former State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Health; Maria Cattaui former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Switzerland; Carlos Fuentes, writer and public intellectual, Mexico; Asma Jahangir, human rights activist, former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Executions, Pakistan; Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria , France; Mario Vargas Llosa, writer and public intellectual, Peru; George Papandreou, Prime Minister of Greece; George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State, United States (honorary chair); Javier Solana, former European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy , Spain; Thorvald Stoltenberg, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Norway; Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve and of the Economic Recovery Board; John Whitehead, banker and civil servant, chair of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, United States; and Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico.

While the Obama administration may be loathe to listen, the weight of world opinion, as reflected in the composition of the global commission that issued this report, is starting to create stress fractures in the wall of prohibition. A half-century of global drug prohibition has showed us what it can deliver, and the world is increasingly finding it wanting.

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