Feature: Beyond 2008 -- Global Civil Society Tells the UN It's Time to Fix International Drug Policy

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #543)
Politics & Advocacy

Last week, some 300 delegates representing organizations from across the drug policy spectrum met in Vienna for the Beyond 2008 NGO Forum, an effort to provide civil society input on global drug policy. Building on a series of regional meetings last year, the forum was part of an ongoing campaign to reshape the United Nations' drug policy agenda as the world organization grapples with its next 10-year plan.

[inline:vienna-inside.jpg align=right caption="UN building housing the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Vienna (interior shot)"]In 1998, the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs issued a declaration outlining its 10-year strategy to "eliminate or significantly reduce" the cultivation of marijuana, coca, and opium poppies. "A drug-free world -- we can do it!" was the motto adopted by UNGASS a decade ago. Now, with the 10-year review bumped back to next March, it is clear that the global anti-drug bureaucracy cannot claim to have achieved its goals, and civil society is taking the opportunity to intervene in search of a new, more pragmatic and humane direction in global drug policy.

The NGO meeting, which included drug treatment, prevention, education, and policy reform groups, harm reduction groups, and human rights groups from around the world, resulted in a resolution that will be presented to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) at its meeting next March. At that meeting, the CND will draft the next UN 10-year global drug strategy.

Of the nine regions of the world, only North America sent two delegations. The first, which had met in St. Petersburg, Florida, in January, deliberately excluding harm reduction and drug reform groups, was the "official" delegation, representing hard-line prohibitionist organizations aligned with the Office of National Drug Control Policy, such as the Drug-Free America Foundation and the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), the California Narcotics Officers Association, and the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

The second North American grouping, which had held its regional meeting in Vancouver in February, included dozens of organizations in drug reform and harm reduction, as well as treatment, prevention, and rehabilitation groups. Among the organizations from the Vancouver meeting that went to Vienna were the ACLU Drug Law Policy Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Virginians Against Drug Violence, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Harm Reduction Coalition, Break The Chains, and the Institute for Policy Studies.

In many ways, the three-day meeting in Vienna was a debate among North Americans, with the NGOs of the other eight regions having largely agreed on a reformist and harm reduction approach. And strikingly, for the first time at a UN event, the prohibitionists found themselves in a distinct minority.

After three days of sometimes heated discussion, the unanimous declaration of the NGOs at Beyond 2008 called for:

  • Recognition of "the human rights abuses against people who use drugs";
  • "Evidence-based" drug policy focused on "mitigation of short-term and long-term harms" and "full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms";
  • The UN to report on the collateral consequences of the current criminal justice-based approach to drugs and to provide an "analysis of the unintended consequences of the drug control system";
  • Comprehensive "reviews of the application of criminal sanctions as a drug control measure";
  • Recognition of harm reduction as a necessary and worthwhile response to drug abuse;
  • A shift in primary emphasis from interdiction to treatment and prevention;
  • Alternatives to incarceration;
  • The provision of development aid to farmers before eradication of coca or opium crops;
  • Acknowledging that young people represent a significant proportion of drug users worldwide, are disproportionately affected by drugs and drug policy, and should be actively involved in the setting of global drug policy.

"We achieved a set of declarations of what the people of the world think drug policy ought to look like," said Graham Boyd of the ACLU Drug Law Policy Project. "We reached a consensus on a set of policies that is really different from what we've seen so far. It's a shift away from interdiction, arrests, and imprisonment, and toward including concepts like human rights and harm reduction."

[inline:vienna-inside-2.jpg align=left caption="Fayzal Sulliman (Sub-Saharan African Harm Reduction Network, Stijn Goossens (International Network Of People Who Use Drugs), Kris Krane (Students for Sensible Drug Policy)"]"We hammered out a pretty amazing set of suggestions as to where the UNODC and CND should go in the next decade," said Jack Cole, executive director of LEAP. "I thought it was wonderful. This is a consensus document," Cole noted. "While that means anything that everybody couldn't agree on didn't get in, it also means that every single person there agreed with what did get in. That's why I'm so pleased with this. At the end, we were able to agree on some really, really good things."

"I think we accomplished a lot," said Lennice Werth of Virginians Against Drug Violence. "What was really important was where the rest of the world stood, and it was clear from the regional meetings that everyone else mentioned harm reduction and the decriminalization of drug use as goals. By the end of the meetings, the whole world was sitting back and watching as two US factions slugged it out. It became evident that the whole world is seeing the light except for these hard-liners in the States."

"This was a really good reality check for the US prohibitionists," said Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies. "They've never been forced to sit in a room with so many people who have evolved so far beyond them. A real wake-up call. And we even got some of them to engage us, and found we had a lot in common. That leaves the hardliners way out in the cold."

"The NGO community is united in insisting that the UN and member states respect the human rights of people who use drugs, and that all drug strategies must be drafted in the spirit of human rights declarations," said Kris Krane, executive director of SSDP. "If adopted by the United Nations, this could have a profound impact in many parts of the world where drug users are routinely treated as subhuman, and subjected to treatment that would be unthinkable even in the context of repressive United States drug policy."

"We achieved some important gains," said Frederick Polak, speaking as a member of ENCOD, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies. "But the central issue for ENCOD and its 150 organizations is to get alternative drug control policies on the agenda of CND and of individual countries. It is no longer acceptable that alternative policies are simply not discussed by governments, and not at the UN, at least not at the level of policymakers."

In that regard, said Polak, Beyond 2008 did not go far enough. "We made very little progress on actually getting legalization and regulation on the agenda, and only in the sense that most people are aware now that the issue 'hangs in the air' in Vienna," he said.

The haggling between the prohibitionist fringe and the rest of the NGOs not only prevented the adoption of more overtly anti-prohibitionist language, Polak said, it also prevented discussion of additional proposals for alternative drug control policies, including one advanced by ENCOD.

But it is a ways from passing a civil society resolution to seeing it adopted by the global anti-drug bureacracy. Now that Beyond 2008 has crafted its resolutions, the goal is to see that it has some impact on the deliberations of the UN drug bodies next year. That involves not only showing up in Vienna, but also impressing upon national governments that they need to heed what civil society is telling them.

"This was the first quarter in a game that has three quarters left," said Boyd. "But we did well in the sense that until this conference, NGOs didn't really have a place at the table when it came to discussing international drug policy. What this means is that when the nations convene and reassess international drug policy in coming months, they will know that NGOs from all of their countries have really called on them to reassess the direction they're going," he continued.

"This is going to provide traction for reform of the international drug control system, and the fact that it was a consensus document make it even more powerful," said Tree. "The prohibitionists were so marginalized, they had to consent. Some even opened their ears and listened. We have opened the door for drug policy approaches like harm reduction, public health, regulation, and ending the folly of blaming other countries for our demand."

"Now we need to make sure our voices are heard," said Boyd. "Part of that is just showing up in Vienna, but part of that is speaking to our national government representatives and making sure they're really representing us. In our case, our national government hasn't shown much empathy for the positions we've taken, but we're a democratic society, so I hope they will include our views."

Reformers must also continue to make the case against drug prohibition, said ENCOD's Polak. "The theory of prohibition is that it will diminish drug production, supply and use. Yet in reality it has achieved the exact opposite, and has additionally created violence, corruption and chaos that is now destroying millions of lives. It's safe to say that prohibition theory has been proven false," he said.

"In any other field of policy, alternative methods would be explored, but in international drug policy, consideration of alternative policies is taboo," Polak continued. "With this argument, drug policy activists should try to convince public opinion and politicians in their country that there is an urgent need for a thorough and rational study of alternative drug control policies."

"This could be an exercise in futility," said Werth, acknowledging the slow pace of change at the UN and the uncertainty over whether change will occur at all. "But it doesn't seem like it. The UN moves at a glacial pace, but they know they didn't achieve a drug-free world, and when they move, it will undercut the gang in charge of drug policy in this country."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

sets up the prohibitions. The prohibitions set up the false value of the drug market. The falsely valued market sets up the violence. It takes a WORLDWIDE commision, how long, to come to this realization? Prohibition is the gateway towards tyranny and corruption. The ONDCP/DEA is a prime example. STOP THE PROHIBITION =STOP THE VIOLENCE. Certainly ,the united nations of the world can unite behind this simple observation.

Fri, 07/18/2008 - 9:40am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

If you ever decide to try marijuana:

Don't go out into public high. People don't like to be assigned bit parts in your movie.

Fri, 07/18/2008 - 11:10am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

If you ever decide to try marijuana:

Don't go out into public high. People don't like to be assigned bit parts in your movie.

Doesn't everyone, high or not, assign other people bit parts in their movie? At least people who are high are conscious of it and have fun with it.

Sat, 07/19/2008 - 3:35pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I know you all take Prohibition into serious consideration and so I pray as one who has accepted Exodus 30:23 as the Word of God (which places the substance "Kaneh Bosm"(Cannabis) as one of the substances used to "Christen/Anoint" adherents unto God), ask that you take my God, or atleast my Gods given rights, unto "just" consideration as well and help me in establishing the "Creedance I need to be seen here in "Clearwater" (FL) so that I may fuel my "Revival"!

Moses was given this "Anointing" to consecrate all the religious articles of the "Faith", including the Priests and Kings of Israel. This Word, Kaneh Bosm was translated by an Anthropologist and linguist, Sula Bennet; and verified in 1980 by the Hebrew University, as Cannabis (Kaneh Bosm).

I, being born of God thru the "anointing" (Translated as "Christ") of God, have come to be fully involved in the sacrament of Cannabis for over 14 years. I was baptized with the substance by a man back in 1994 and after being baptized by the firey sacrament I was led by God to an exaltation not of this earth!

For 14 years I have participated wth God in my sacrament/anointing of His conscration and for about 7 of those years, spent vagabonding the United States going from Church to Church, Rainbow Gathering to Rainbow Gathering, and protest to protest where I could get involved in the sharing of the Word of God while I have shared and "anointed" (Christed) people all over the United States in the name of the Lord my God.

Now, after all of these years traveling and sharing the "Anointing" of my God, Kaneh Bosm (Marijuana), I have come to live in a monastic house as a priest and have drawn up articles of incorporation for "the Entheogenic Reformation Church", which I instigated over 9 years ago. While still In process of incorporating (Articles Incorporated 5-26-08 FL Document# 08000005138) however, the police arrived at my house because a tenant that I had evicted that very day, called them saying someone was trying to kick her door in.

Well, after talking to the police for a little bit, I went back to my place. Well, the evicted tenant told the police that I either possess or sell cannabis to people and so the police turned back to my house. My roomate at the time, called me saying the police wanted to talk to me again so I went back out front only to find an officer walking right up saying, lets talk inside so "She" can't over hear us.", as he walked briskly passed me to enter my house. (By his doing this, it was Implied that I had no authority or just cause to deny him entrance)

I, as property manager, and a law abiding citizen, walked back into my house to hear what the officer had to say only to find an immediate "Attack" against my religion and my acceptance of the "anointing" of God, with the officer saying, "Look, now that I'm in your house I can turn the whole place over to find what I'm looking for and I have the right because the neighbor told me you possess illegal drugs in this house. Just give me the illegal drugs and I will confiscate it and leave.

I looked at the officer for a moment and said, "Look, you came in here to talk to me about a property management issue, if your not here to talk to me about that I plead the fifth to any other line of questioning." And with my body movement implied His need to leave.

He turned around toward the door as though He took my lead and was going to allow me my pleading, but he only turned around and pushed the door closed, then turned back around to me and walking up closer to me, seeming to threaten me, he started to yell about his position as an officer and pointing angrily 4 or 5 times at his uniform saying, "Look at this!" (I wouldn't take my eye's from his to allow him to make me submit to his illegal threatening behavior while in my own monastic institution)
Look at this! He yelled again, trying to pull my eye's into submission again and again.. but finally I looked because he was yelling and threateningly leaning toward me.

"Thats my SWAT, Badge...I'm not just some other officer .."

I honestly tought in that instance that there was someone outside with a gun aimed at me and so totally under threat now, he got my attention!

He said, go and get it now, whatever it is and I won't charge you I will confenscate it and leave!

I said, look.. I'm a priest of my God in this monastic house and I stand faithfully in my rights under the Religious Freedom of Restoration Act of '93 and '97, as well as my Right to Freedom of Religion under the Constitution to use Cannabis as a sacrament, but as to whether I have any in my possession, I plead the fifth.

He looked like he was ready to kill me after that sir!

I thought, "I am done for!"
Then again he said, "look.. I know you have something illegal now on the property and I have the right to tare up this place looking for it and I "WILL" arrest you.

Scared, but seeing the American Flag on my Front door, and the Flag he had on His uniform I decided to see if this officer would uphold His word. Fine.. I said.. one second.. I turned to walk to the back of my sanctuary and the officer intending to follow I stopped and said.. look I'm going back there.. I'll be right back.
He said, How do I know your not going to get a gun.. I'm following you..

He started toward me and so I turned and walked back to my room where I found and handed the Horn of my salvation (Horn of Salvation/Peace Pipe) to the officer.
He said, see.. now how easy was that..

Now, being I have this, I really do have the right to search now..

("You said you already had the right!" I thought)

Then he said, "So.. now where's the rest?"

I was going to give it to him, but now finding he had already lied to me, I didn't know if the officer would uphold his word on not arresting me for my holding faithfull to my religious beliefs and so again, I fell into fear of this officer's ability to uphold my rights as a citizen rightfully allowed my sacrament to worship my God in my alms giving and/or fellowship.

I, started to stall, saying I didn't have anything else. I then walked into the bathroom where he followed me and I showed him the medicine cabinet and said that the only other thing you might find is here. Hoping he would just see them and quit this illegal search!

He didnt, he pressed me further and further and then another officer showed up coming in without my permission into my room where they both were now looking around to see what I might have.

Well, seeing the other officer come in, I knew they were going to find it eventually so I thought I better just hope this officer upholds his word and just gave it to him; hoping that my God, knowing my intents are not harmful nor criminal, will bare me thru whatever it is I might have to suffer for being a child of my God, an intentional community builder and proactivist, thru the revelations I have come upn by my being anointing of my sacrament.

I went to where I kept my sacrament, pulled it out and handed it to the officersaying, here.. it's my religious sacrament as I declared it. Do as you will.

He looked at it and said, well.. since there is so much of it, (53 grams), I'm going to take you into temporary custody and put you in the police car until we do a search..

They did this and then came back out to me and said I was under arrest for possession of an illegal substance. My Sacrament.

I, am now living in Clearwater, in my monastic house awaiting trial with a public defender. I can't afford a good attorney, (not to say the quality of my PD's ability isn't) nor can I deny my God or Government the Truth about who I am, have been and will to be while in the pursuit of my God in His good pleasure, found in my being consecrated over and unto Him; thru my sacramental use of Marijuana.

Why are there no organizations that are seeking to help peope who have translated the Bible in Exodus 30:23 and who have found Cannabis to be the very foundation of faith, that they live their lives out from?

Since when has the United States Criminal Justice System been allowed to prosecute (and therein persecute) a person for what "Translation" of the Bible the person sincerely holds themselves and their church members up to?

Please Help us all!
Jerry M. Cofer

I have been ordained thru the Universal Life Church for over 12 years now and began with 8 years of clean time in Narcotics Anonymous after being raised by psychologists in drug treatment from the age of 13 to 18 where I was taught criminology and other college level classes as well as horticulture, agility and Trust and of course re-habilitated from my "addictive personality disorder", after leaving the institution somehow my records were lost putting me back from 11 th grade with college credit.. to 9th!
I quit H.S. and went to join the military where even after 8 years of Clean Time and atleast 4 years of being totally involved as a GSR, going to NA conventions and even bringing a drug class into Charter Colonial Hospital in Virginia for the teenagers that were being held there. The Military denied my entrance, but not until after I was told I had to add 15 college credits to my GED to get into the military and so signed up with a business college they introduced me to where I spent 2 semesters, going to 5 classes each semester, on the college softball team, started the Poetry Club, helped with the College Newspaper, worked full time as an auto-mechanic Apprentice, was put on the Presidents list for 4.0 Gpa after both semesters and invited to join some fraternity, only to find out by the Attorney General of Virginia that my College had lied about it's accredations and so none of the good my God brought me thru, was of any worth to my country once again. Then, I found out I was ineligable to go into the military because my parents put me in drug rehab at 14 for my being truent from school to hang out with my 19 year old girlfriend.

After finding out I wasn't able to honor my country with my life being given to the military, who paid to have me rehabilitated
under my Dad's Active duty insurance, and that my college was of no use, and that I had a 7 thousand dollar bill I had to call my fiancee who I was with for 2 years to explain only to find an old friend answering her phone, and then my fiancee telling me (before I was able to tell her all that had even happened) that she couldn't marry me.

I was destroyed that night when I took the advice of all the doctors that told me that if I ever smoked again, I could die!
I honestly believed this so much that I tried to kill myself by smoking some of my stepdads pot.

I found that there was a God that night! I was able to escape all the self hatred I had, because the soothing, calmng and even therapeutic effect of the substance opened me to God and to the revelations about my being better than the Country I sought to serve, even hopeful not just for myself but for the change of the whole world. Grandios or not, I pray God is right, and that I am one day allowed the dignity of my God and my sacrament without fear of retaliation from people or law, being jusfified in the consideration I give of my God.

Shalom and Namaste! JesusFish <><

Fri, 07/18/2008 - 11:44am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with Polak.Just mentioning the possibility that other experiments than prohibition might be useful is still a taboo ! Leaving the path of world wide fits all global treaties is an even more hick up topic for the UN drug policy institutions. Insight that regional or cultural approaches can work with a lot less violence and destruction than a uniform global Prohibition will empty present drug control institutions of power and money . So they make it anathema.
The ultimate harm reduction is not a few milligram of methadone or some medical marihuana just before you die; it is acquiring the human right for adults to use drugs within regulatory systems that nations are free to decide upon. Variations between such systems may be large or small, the main thing is that the medieval Vatican for drug policy is demolished and its Inquisitors deposed.

Peter Cohen

Fri, 07/18/2008 - 11:58am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

You sound like that old dude in Lord of The Rings lol....

Seriously, good luck with your court fight. I strongly suggest you get the ACLU involved with your case and give NORML a call.

Fri, 07/18/2008 - 12:23pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

"...suggestions as to where the UNODC and CND should go in the next decade," ??? I suggest all prohibitionist criminals, and the stools that love them, be sent to prison where dangerous civil rights violating pricks belong. After the prohibitionists are safely behind bars we can sieze their assets to recoup the huge $40 billion dollar a year 'drug war' cost!

Never forget that the prohibitionists', and their modern temperance movement, remains a primarily RELIGIOUS delusional endeavor... devoid of facts and full of fictions & fears.

The most dangerous and delusional drugs in amerika are the social narcotics known as god & government... always more harm then help... and highly antagonistic to virtually everything this country is supposed to represent... namely responsible self-governance and self-determination!

It's not the strenght of their truth, but, the truth of their strength that makes the purveyors of gods & gov'ts supremely dangerous!

Billy B. Blunt
Tacoma, WA

P.S. To Jerry M. Cofer, above, as an atheist I prefer your religious viewpoint, but, remember your gnostic viewpoint is alien to orthodox western judao/christians. The persecution of gnostics certaintly isn't anything new, or likely to stop anytime soon, but the sooner we can remove religion & gov't from the equation the sooner we can get on with our personal choices... free from coercion!

Fri, 07/18/2008 - 1:54pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Christ said "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and render unto God the things that are God's.

As a Libertarian I believe that people should be allowed to do whatever they want as long as it's voluntary and nobody else gets hurt.

I also am a practicing Presbyterian who opposes prohibition II.

Fri, 07/18/2008 - 2:44pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Prohibition INCREASES demand while creating and fueling a highly dangerous black market (gangs) at an unbeleivably high cost in both money and lives.

Neil Magnuson,

Fri, 07/18/2008 - 4:20pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Sadly the prohibitionists, backed by big tobacco Baptist religionists, won't budge on these simple matters. The cost in blood and life sentences has become too great to simply turn around and change it.It is fodder for their "cause" they are the ones who are responsible for the bloodshed . As a human of free will that chooses not to harm anyone by relaxing in my home with mine, I'll continue to do as I feel is my right as a human being. I regret seeing people's lives ruined by Lie Enforcement. Don't get your hopes up, nothing will change.

Sun, 07/20/2008 - 9:38am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

The jig is up, all you prohibiters (you know who you are). Prohibition has been proven a fraud , an unaffordable fraud. Just read the current wave of editorials in any major newspaper. Theres nothing the prolitariate hates more ,than an overly expensive, destuctive, fraud. So what finally brings down USA's longest running domestic war ? Exposure. Bring on the trials. I hear the weather in Argentina is nice.

Sun, 07/20/2008 - 11:55am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Thailand and Indonesia have the death penalty for people caught with large amounts of drugs... BUT The government of Taiwan does not regard drug use and HIV as a chief problem and therefore no direct policy exists.

Mon, 03/09/2009 - 3:16am Permalink

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