So that DRCNet readers may see what drug reformers are up against at the United Nations next month in Vienna, the Week Online here provides excerpts from a speech given by UN Office on Drugs and Crime head Antonio Maria Costa on March 7 at the International Cannabis Symposium in Stockholm.
Acosta praises the Swedes, who have one of the harshest drug policies in Europe: "Your invitation offers me the opportunity to commend the Government of Sweden for its long-term commitment to the prevention of drug addiction and its generous support to multilateral action to reduce illicit drug production, trafficking and abuse, worldwide. Your social and health policies are admired around the globe. They are a clear demonstration that the people of Sweden take seriously the welfare of the nation. Your example, a beacon to the world, has produced one of the highest standards of living, and a most egalitarian society where social inclusion has been more than just the usual slogan. Your success, mirrored throughout the Nordic region, should be carefully considered by other countries: It has brought health and wealth, making a difference in the prevention of drug abuse."
Acosta attacks the demon weed: "Cannabis Sativa is a most gentle looking, spontaneously growing plant with several practical applications already known in the ancient world. It contains, however, treacherously addictive substances that have turned the plant into an international problem. Like for other illicit drugs, cannabis is a global problem not simply because it is traded everywhere, but because it cannot be countered by any single nation. The reality of this evil business is such that consumers in one region provide for the supply elsewhere; similarly supply can generate its own demand across borders.
Acosta pats drug fighters on the back: "Our purpose is unassailable..."
Acosta hypes the drug menace: "[W]orld public opinion has become much more aware of, and involved in appraising the risks and the consequences of drug abuse, urging governments to place all attendant forms of uncivil behavior high on the public policy agenda. Indeed, almost universally, public opinion polls have listed the 'evil trilogy' -- drugs, crime and terrorism -- as the most potent threats to society."
Acosta identifies the threat: "[T]he spreading of a permissive culture that stresses the right to choose individual lifestyles (including abuse), and that proselytizes differentiation among types of narcotics -- as if some among these were less dangerous to health than others. Cannabis, and synthetic drugs like amphetamine-type stimulants, are some of these... Occasional calls for the reconsideration (i.e. relaxation) of current drug control legislation are hardly consistent with member countries' stated objective of protecting present and future generations from the devastating consequences of nicotine addiction -- itself not an illicit substance. The priority the international community is attributing to promoting stronger tobacco-control legislation and the cessation of tobacco use is twin to global efforts to maintain strong counter-narcotics legislation -- which deals with substances under international control."
Acosta feigns confusion about medical marijuana: "I am not sure I understand the controversy about the medical virtues of cannabis: First, if and when they are ascertained, society should definitely make use of them. Who could oppose the advances of medicine? Who would stand in the way of reducing suffering? My concern is to prevent that, by proclaiming the (medical) virtues of cannabis, we open a back door to its wider (recreational) consumption. Society would end up regretting such abuse, just as we now regret tobacco addiction. If proven to be medically useful -- and this is my second point -- cannabis should be treated like any other medicine, namely as a pharmaceutical preparation to be prescribed for specific symptoms in accordance with properly determined dosages and standards. In other words, either we are serious about the medical properties of cannabis (and we, in this Hall, take the question very seriously) or it is just a matter of using such properties as a Trojan horse to reach other goals -- namely, the de facto decriminalization of its production and trafficking. In this case I would be strongly negative."
Acosta's riposte to reformers: "My Office in Vienna is considered the custodian of the international drug control treaties. These conventions are a world asset, negotiated to protect the health of our societies. Three centuries ago, when tobacco consumption started to spread and eventually became today's scourge, the sort of international consensus that eventually brought about the drug control treaties was not in place -- was not even conceivable. To those who would like to dispose of the UN drug conventions, I'd like to ask: If the United Nations had existed at the dawn of the tobacco era, would it not have been wise to produce a convention similar to the ones designed for narcotics? When I pose this question, the universal answer is always affirmative: In other words, while it is impossible to conceive of prohibiting the consumption of tobacco today, it would certainly have been wise to have banned it a few centuries back. So, may I ask, why do people try to put the clock back and weaken the UN drug control conventions, established to fight an even greater threat to our health?"
Visit http://www.undcp.org/odccp/speech_2003-03-07_1.html to read Acosta's speech in its entirety.