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End Drug Prohibition to Fight Organized Crime, World Leaders Say [FEATURE]

For nearly a decade now, a collection of former heads of state, high political figures, businessmen, and cultural figures have been working to reform drug policy at the national and international levels. Known as the Global Commission on Drug Policy, this group of planetary elders has been busy issuing reports at the rate of one a year on how to reduce the harms of prohibitionist drug policies and what would be more effective and humane alternatives.

members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (globalcommissionondrugs.org)
Now they've just released their latest report, Enforcement of Drug Laws: Refocusing on Organized Crime Elites, which takes on the perverse and insidious ways drug prohibition actually empowers and encourages criminal enterprises, and counsels nations and the global anti-drug bureaucracy to find a better way. That includes pondering the possibility of drug legalization and the taming of illicit markets through regulation -- not prohibition, which has demonstrably failed for decades.

The commission rolled out its report Thursday with a virtual presentation on YouTube.

"This report has a new perspective on the problem of organized crime," said commission member Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and former head of the United Nations Development Program. "Organized crime is a challenge in every society, and if it gets into the political realm and starts corrupting political systems, that is a huge issue, and it has done that," she said.

"Where the commission comes from is that we're saying 'drugs are being caught up in this' because of the refusal of the international community to accept that drugs need to be responsibly regulated," Clark continued. The attempt to prohibit them has actually been a license for organized crime to build a half-trillion dollar a year industry peddling stuff. Could we take drugs out of that through responsible regulation?

As president of Colombia between 2010 and 2018, Juan Manuel Santos mediated a peace treaty with the leftist guerrillas of the FARC and won a Nobel prize for his efforts. He also presided over a country that is perennially in contention for being the world's largest cocaine producer. He knows about what drug prohibition can bring.

"I come from a country that has fought drug traffickers and drug trafficking for so long and has probably paid the highest price of any country in the world -- Colombia has lost its best leaders, best journalists, best judges, best policemen -- and we are still the number one exporter of cocaine to the world markets," Santos said. "Corruption and drug trafficking go hand in hand. The most dangerous and protected individuals often escape, while ordinary people who happen to use illicit drugs see their lives destroyed by the war on drugs," he argued.

"To fight organized crime, we must follow the money," Santos continued. "People are realizing that a war that has been fought for a half century and has not been won is a war that has been lost, and so you have to change your strategy and your tactics if you want to be successful. Corruption, violence, profits, and prohibition are very closely related. You do away with prohibition, you regulate, you bring down the profits, and immediately you will start to see an improvement in violence and corruption."

The commission's work centers around five pathways, explained commission chair and former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss.

"It is putting health first," she said. "Second, it is also giving priority to the use of some of these substances for their medical benefits. It is one of the dramatic situations also, mainly in poor countries, that the people have no access to scheduled pain killers. The third pathway, which we think is very important, is to end the criminalization of people who use drugs. The fourth chapter of our reform program is that we have to deal with the criminality related to drugs, and that is why we issued this report today. And the last point is that we have to take control. The state -- reasonable and responsible people -- have to take control of drug markets and not let them stay in criminal hands."

While the 52-page report provides a detailed, evidence-based examination of the challenges of grappling with criminal groups that thrive under prohibition, it summarizes its findings with five basic recommendations for national governments and at the United Nations, whose anti-drug treaties form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. These are:

  1. States must acknowledge the negative consequences of repressive law enforcement approaches to drug policies and recognize that prohibition forges and strengthens criminal organizations. Sharing such conclusions with the public must then feed national debates to support bold drug policy reform. (We all know the litany by now: From racially-biased and militarized policing and over-incarceration in the United States to bloody drug wars in Mexico and Colombia financed by prohibition profits, to the murderous and repressive anti-drug campaign in the Philippines, enforcing drug prohibition has dreadfully harmful consequences.)
  2. States must analyze the transnational and trans-sectorial nature of criminal organizations, to review and reform the current exclusive focus on law enforcement. (Drug trafficking organizations don't just traffic drugs; they tend to get their fingers in whatever illicit enterprises can turn a buck for them, from wildlife smuggling to counterfeiting to extortion. And maybe we'd be better off devoting more resources to treatment and prevention instead of trying to suppress and arrest our way out of the problem.)
  3. States must develop targeted and realistic deterrence strategies to counter organized crime and focus their response on the most dangerous and/or highest profiting elements in the criminal market. States must also reinforce interdepartmental cooperation to address criminal markets in a broad sense, not solely drugs, and develop effective transnational coordination against trans-border criminal groups and international money laundering. (It's both cruel and ineffective to target drug users and street-level dealers for arrest and prosecution. But the recent Mexican experience has shown that the alternative strategy of going after "kingpins" can lead to an increase in violence as gang lieutenants engage in murderous struggles to replace each capo killed or captured. It's a real dilemma -- unless you undercut them by ending prohbition.)
  4. States must consider the legal regulation of drugs as the responsible pathway to undermine organized crime. (This increasingly seems like a very reasonable approach.)
  5. UN member states must revisit the global governance of the international drug control regime in order to achieve better outcomes in public health, public safety, justice, and greater impact on transnational organized crime. (It's way past time to nullify or amend the anti-drug treaties that guide international drug policies.)

The Global Commission on Drug Policy has laid out a framework for radical reform. Now, it's up to the nations of the world and the international institutions that bind us together to act.

Colombian Cocaine Production Jumps, VA Pot Decrim Bill Heads to Governor, More... (3/9/20)

Colombian cocaine production is way up, the US says as it pushes for forced and aerial eradication, NJ pot legalization supporters organize for victory, WVA is moving to increase meth sentences, and more.

Cocaine production in Colombia is at record levels, the US says. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Supporters form Coalition to Push for November Victory. Advocates and stakeholders in the state's marijuana industry have formed a campaign coalition, NJ CAN 2020, to fight for marijuana legalization that includes a racial and social justice approach. The group includes members of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, including the ACLU of New Jersey, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, the Latino Action Network, the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference and the NJ CannaBusiness Association.

Oklahoma Sees Another Legalization Initiative Filed. Stakeholders in the state's medical marijuana industry have filed a legalization initiative, SQ 811, in response to an earlier filed legalization initiative that they say would not fully protect the state's existing medical marijuana industry. The initiative would tax marijuana at 25% but says medical marijuana would be "exempt from all taxes." The same group also filed a decriminalization initiative, SQ 812, the same day.

Virginia Legislature Approves Decriminalization Bill. The state Senate on Sunday approved a decriminalization bill, SB 2. The bill has already passed the House, so it now heads to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D). Under the bill, possession of up to an ounce will now merit a fine of no more than $50.  

Sentencing

West Virginia Legislature Approves Bill Raising Meth Sentences. The state Senate on Sunday approved HB 4852, which would double mandatory minimum and maximum sentences for possession with intent to manufacture or deliver methamphetamine. What is currently a one-to-five-year sentence would become a two-to-10-year sentence. The bill has already passed the House but has to go back for a concurrence vote to approve changes made in the Senate.

Foreign Policy

United States and Colombian Officials Set Bilateral Agenda to Reduce Cocaine Supply. Last Friday, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the United States Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) led a counternarcotics dialogue with the Government of Colombia to set forth a bilateral, whole-of-government joint action plan to reduce the high levels of coca cultivation and cocaine production by 50 percent by the end of 2023.The dialogue focused on increasing coca eradication and cocaine interdiction, improving security and economic opportunities in the rural areas most afflicted by narcotics trafficking, and targeting narcotics-related money laundering and illicit finances. A focus of the discussion was expanding the results of Colombia’s integrated coca eradication program by ensuring full use of all available tools, including manual eradication, alternative development, and a Colombian-led aerial eradication component, supported by rural development and rural security programs.

International

Canadian Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith has recently tabled a drug decriminalization bill, C-235, which would remove simple drug possession from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. "The international evidence is pretty clear that the way we have dealt with drug use, the war on drugs and throwing police resources to reduce drug use, has failed and has undermined public-health efforts," Erskine-Smith said. "And the overwhelming evidence today is that we should treat drug use as a health issue and we should be removing barriers to seeking treatment, and decriminalization of simple possession would do just that." Private bills rarely pass, but this is a start.

Colombia Cocaine Production Hit Record High Last Year Despite Forced Eradication, US Says. Cocaine production increased 8% last year, reaching an all-time high, according to figures released by the US government. The increase came even as the US and Colombian governments have been promoting forced eradication of coca crops and refusing to support crop substitution and rural development programs that are broadly considered more effective.

Chronicle AM: Drug Policy Alliance Names New Leader, HI House Passes Drug Defelonization Bill, More... (3/4/20)

The Drug Policy Alliance has a new executive director, Mexico's effort to legalize marijuana stalls in the Senate, the Oklahoma House moves to regulate kratom, and more. 

Kassandra Frederique is the new executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. (DPA)
Kratom

Oklahoma House Passes Bill to Regulate—Not Ban--Kratom. The House on Monday passed House Bill 2846, which would regulate kratom. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Names Kassandra Frederique as New Executive Director. Ten-year Drug Policy Alliance veteran Kassandra Frederique has been named executive director of the group following the resignation of Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno earlier this year. Frederique was managing director of policy, advocacy, and campaigns before being named executive director. "Kassandra is well suited to lead DPA," the group said in a press release. "Kassandra started at DPA a decade ago as an intern. Her exemplary work propelled her meteoric rise through the organization... In New York, she ran the campaign that reduced marijuana arrests in NYC by 84%. Through strategic advocacy, she shifted the politics around the issue, even bringing skeptic Gov. Cuomo around to the point that New York is now poised to legalize. Kassandra is the architect of innovative campaigns to roll back mass criminalization and expand the debate around overdose. Her voice leads national conversations about the complex interplay between race and the overdose crisis."

Hawaii Senate Approves Drug Defelonization Bill. The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that turns low-level drug possession felonies into misdemeanors. House Bill 2581 would create a new fourth degree misdemeanor category for people caught with less than two grams of a controlled substance. Currently, possession of any amount of drugs except marijuana is a felony. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

Idaho House Passes Bill Relaxing Mandatory Minimums for Heroin, Enacting Them for Fentanyl. The House on Monday passed House Bill 469, which relaxes mandatory minimum sentences for heroin, but added them for fentanyl. In the last two legislative sessions, the House voted to end mandatory minimums, but those bills never moved in the Senate. Now, we'll see if this one does.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Stalled in Senate. With less than two months to meet a Supreme Court deadline to legalize marijuana, legislation to get it done has stalled in the Senate. That's according to opposition Senator Miguel Angel Mancera, who said there is no consensus between the parties. “[Legislation for] recreational use is not moving. It’s more difficult than outsourcing,” the former Mexico City mayor said, referring to a congressional battle over outsourcing last year.

Fentanyl Trade Fuels Cartel Battle in Central Mexico. Five competing drug trafficking groups are fighting over control of the fentanyl trade in the north-central state of Zacatecas, and it's leaving a toll of dead. The number of killings in the state reached 666 last year, more than double the figure from a decade ago. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel dominate the trade, but three other groups are trying to muscle in. They are the Gulf Cartel and two offshoots of the Zetas, known as the Talibanes and the Northeastern Cartel.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

Chronicle AM: NJ Legalization Delayed, NM Court Rejects Albuquerque Car Seizures, More.. (12/14/18)

A national coalition of civil rights, labor, and civic groups calls for descheduling marijuana; New Jersey isn't quite there yet, France takes a step toward allowing medical marijuana, and more.

still waiting for Garden State marijuana legalization (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

National Coalition Calls for Marijuana to Be Descheduled. A coalition of civil rights groups, labor unions, and other groups is calling not only for Congress to deschedule marijuana but also for it to ensure that communities most harmed by pot prohibition see benefits. The coalition includes AARP, the AFL-CIO, and the League of Women Voters. "Pass legislation de-scheduling marijuana with racial equity and justice reform components," the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said in a letter outlining priorities for the coalition in the 116th Congress that begins in January.

New Jersey Legalization May Not Happen Until Next Year. Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin met with Gov. Phil Murphy (D) Thursday for a closed-door meeting to discuss marijuana legalization but made no decision. The lawmakers now say a vote may not take place until next year, even though Murphy wanted it in the first 90 days of his term.

Asset Forfeiture

New Mexico Appeals Court Rules Against Albuquerque Asset Forfeiture Law. The state Court of Appeals has ruled that Albuquerque's municipal vehicle seizure program is not only pre-empted by the state's law governing seizures, it "completely contradicts it." The city can only seize vehicles after a criminal conviction, the court held. "While the language of the NMFA does not prohibit municipalities from enacting and enforcing criminal forfeiture proceedings, it restricts forfeiture to criminal proceedings, and imposes specific requirements on any criminal forfeiture proceedings that must comport with… the NMFA."

International

France Moves Toward Allowing Medical Marijuana. A government-appointed committee has given initial approval for the use of medical marijuana. The Agency for Drug Safety has concluded that it is "relevant to authorize the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes for patients in certain clinical situations." If a patient is receiving insufficient relief from current therapeutics, cannabis represents a viable alternative, the committee decided.It said people with chronic pain, cancer patients, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis sufferers and patients in palliative care could all benefit from cannabis use.

StoptheDrugWar.org Internships

StoptheDrugWar.org is interviewing for the spring 2018, summer 2018, and fall 2018 semesters. We currently have internships in the following areas:

Along with our current internship listings, please visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/about, https://stopthedrugwar.org/global and https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines to learn about our organization and our current projects and campaigns.

Please feel free to contact us for further information, and thank you for your interest.

Reforming Global Drug Policy

EVENT: Building Back with Justice? Marcos, Duterte, the ICC and the Philippine Drug War
Thursday July 14, 2022, 7:45-9:00am ET / 1:45-3:00pm CET / 7:45-9:00pm PT
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIqdeigrD0pHd3j2AKnGpgt56EBOqaVIFbJ

Open Wound: Extrajudicial Drug War Killings in 2022

online side event for the 65th Session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Vienna
Friday March 18th, 7:15-8:05am ET | 12:15-1:05pm CET | 7:15-8:05pm PHT

Thank you for taking the time to read about our global drug policy program. Below you will find descriptions of work we've done at the United Nations, with video and links to statements or news articles, but only updated through spring 2017.

The page is not fully updated, but it includes side events at the UN's High Political Forum on Sustainable Development (2018-2020), side events at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meetings (2017-2020), events at the International Criminal Court's Assembly of States Parties (December 2019 in person and December 2021 online), and work we've sponsored by partners on medical marijuana in the UN system from 2016 through this December.

Much of this work has related to our efforts to draw international attention and pressure onto the human rights crisis in the Philippine drug war. However, our July 2019 event at the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development also dealt with reentry programs for the formerly incarcerated, and access to education for people with criminal convictions.

Our March 2019 event drew significant media in the Philippines, due to the participation by Skype of Law School Dean and then senatorial candidate Chel Diokno, who criticized the "erosion of the Philippine justice system." This in turn drew a public response from the government's Justice Secretary, their equivalent of Attorney General.

As part of that ongoing effort we have covered not only the drug war and direct human rights issues, but also the disinformation and social media manipulation campaigns being carried out by President Duterte and his allies. Presentations done for our events including cutting edge academic research and journalism on how appearances are being manipulated through concerted paid online efforts by "trolls" and others.


While drug policy is primarily a national issue, there are needs and opportunities at the international level, and in US foreign policy, and global drug policy has an impact abroad and at home.

 

 
WashingtonPost.com story on our
UNGASS coalition statement

StoptheDrugWar.org plays a leading role in US-based global drug policy reform. We advocated at the United Nations and to the Obama administration during the lead-up to the second-ever "UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem" (UNGASS) in April 2016, the first session at that level since 1998.

Our work has advanced the dialogue on the UN drug control treaties vs. legalization of marijuana or other drugs, and promoted the idea that human rights takes precedence over drug control objectives when the two are in conflict. We have argued for a range of reforms in the areas of public health, development, and access to medicine, all in turn based on human rights principles. Since 2017 we have also done high-profile work on the extrajudicial drug war killings situation in the Philippines.

Our 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit, DRCNet Foundation Inc., has been an accredited NGO in Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since July 2016. This enables us to deliver interventions (short speeches) at UN meetings, to organize side events at longer UN sessions, and to help other advocates get admitted to UN meetings.

Drug policy is implicated in global criminal justice and human rights issues such as sentencing and the death penalty. It affects public health issues like AIDS and Hepatitis C. Development is affected by drug policy, as are crime and security. The international system has made opioid pain medications largely unavailable in most countries. UN drug scheduling is a discouragement to governments wishing to legalize medical marijuana.

With respect to legalization, the big UN issue is treaties that have language proscribing it. The US position has been that marijuana is federally legal, and that tolerating state legalization is a mere prioritization of resources. This argument, however, is not well respected and has at best short-term value. While some jurisdictions have moved forward with legalization despite adverse treaty language, this comes at a diplomatic cost, and the current state of the treaties and other UN drug policies is a discouragement for many countries. (The end notes in our sign-on documents, all linked below, are a good source for reading on all these issues.)

Some of our work in this area, in reverse-chronological order:

statement of UN representative and medical cannabis patient Michael Krawitz, 63rd Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, March 2020

Organized a global sign-on statement on the Philippines extrajudicial drug war killings situation, released during the November 2017 ASEAN Summit. The statement calls for a UN-led investigation into the Philippine extrajudicial drug war killings and for international aid donor governments to pressure the Duterte administration on the issue. Press coverage of the statement included articles in major Philippine news outlets, including the Daily Inquirer, Rappler, Interaksyon and the Philippine Star.

Submitted a statement for the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) 2017 Integration Segment (April 2017). The statement makes the case that adjustments are needed to drug policy in order to make the eradication of poverty a truly integral objective of UN programs, and noted several ways in which prohibitionist drug policies work against achievement of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

 

In March 2017 we presented "Human Rights Challenge: Responding to Extrajudicial Killings in the Drug War," a side event at the annual UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting, dealing with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war mass murder campaign. Vice President Leni Robredo of the Philippines, a critic of the killings, sent us a video for the event, which we also released online, initially through an exclusive on the TIME web site which was followed up by an interview.


Robredo's video drew massive attention in the Philippines and some internationally. Unfortunately, opponents of the vice president used the video to attack her politically, leading to a campaign for her impeachment, a threat which is currently being considered by the Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives. We regret that political leaders of the Philippines misrepresented our event to attack the vice president, instead of facing the grim reality of widespread human rights abuses.

More information on our Philippines-related work, including full video footage and transcripts of our side event, as well as press coverage, is available here.

Also at the 2017 CND, we organized an NGO sign-on statement (initial submission on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime web site, updated version with more signatories on our web site). A major signatory on this statement, new to our global drug policy efforts, is the National Organization for Women (NOW).


We served as the ECOSOC sponsor
enabling this photo exhibit on Supervised
Injection Facilities to be presented at the
2017 UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs
meeting in Vienna.

 

We also served as ECOSOC sponsor for a side event on marijuana regulation and a photo exhibit on safe injection sites organized by European partners. David Borden presented on the panel, discussing the "path toward consensus" on marijuana legalization in the US. Since 2016 we have also provided UN accreditation for these and other partners in advocacy efforts on marijuana's status in the UN drug scheduling system, enabling them to serve as representatives to the UN facilities in Geneva and Vienna; and have served as the charitable sponsor nonprofit for donations to the project.

 

David Borden delivered an invited intervention on the relationship between drug policy and the Sustainable Development Goals, for the January 2017 Intersessional CND meeting (transcript on UNODC web site). The remarks noted tensions between drug prohibition and SDG goals #1 (poverty), #3 (health), #8 (work), #10 (inequality), and #16 (peace, justice and strong institutions. The remarks also noted the decline in global AIDS funding, particularly for programs responding to injection drug use.
 

 

David Borden delivered an intervention at the June 2016 High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS at the UN in New York, panel discussion on the Sustainable Development Goals. The remarks discussed ways that prohibition and the drug war contribute to the spread of HIV and AIDS, and called for the UN to take on these issues during the upcoming 2019 High Level Review of UN drug policy.


 

 

David Borden delivered an intervention during the April 2016 UNGASS, Roundtable on Cross-Cutting Issues. The remarks criticized the rationale countries had offered for avoiding any discussion of possible modifications to the treaties, noting that it's the norm for treaties to be updated at times. Borden also called for regulatory approaches to be considered for New Psychoactive Substances, one of several major issue areas in drug policy that the UN has identified, not solely prohibitionist ones.

Organized a teleconference for media on prospects for marijuana legalization in Canada and Mexico, featuring Mexican Senator Laura Rojas and Canadian Member of Parliament, as well as representatives of leading NGOs in both countries:

media coverage of the teleconference:

  • Extract (Sun-Times) (4/6/16)
  • High Times (4/7/16)
  • Leafly(4/7/16)
  • Cannabis Wire (4/9/16)
  • Civilized (4/10/16)
  • Drug Truth Network (here and here) (4/10/16)
  • Seattle Times editorial (4/17/16) – we're not mentioned, but provided information
  • New York Times (4/18/16) – we're not mentioned, but provided information. The article was the first in a major media outlet to note the US opposed taking up treaty reform at the UN, despite US movement toward legalization.

Our signature effort for the UNGASS was a major sign-on statement with nearly 350 organizational signatories, released to media and at the UN in May 2015 and again in April 2016. The statement was endorsed by such leading NGOs as ACLU, Human Rights Watch and AIDS United.

The statement argues that in cases of irreconcilable conflict, nations' obligations under the human rights treaties, which are enshrined as fundamental in the United Nations Charter, take precedence over provisions of the drug control treaties.

The statement also calls for a range of improvements to policies in areas such as development, public health and security; for the UN to appoint a "Committee of Experts" to study the topic of drug treaty reform; and calls on the Obama administration to harmonize its foreign policy on drugs with its domestic policies by providing leadership at the UN to make that happen.

media coverage of the statement:

We also organized a sign-on letter to President Obama in advance of the March 2016 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting that preceded UNGASS. It noted positive aspects to the administration's approach to UNGASS, but argued that "in key respects... the... US position for UNGASS [took] a short-term approach, stopping short of the crucial reforms called for by UN agencies and US allies, while failing to address new realities." The letter generated a great deal of excitement in the NGO community, and was signed by over 250 organizations in a short period of time, many of them representing mainstream issues affected by drug policy.

media coverage of the sign-on letter:

 

David Borden presented at a February 2016 preparatory event for UNGASS, at the UN in New York.

In April 2015 we organized a sign-on letter protesting the resumption of executions for drug offenses by the government of Indonesia. The link is to a copy of the letter published as part of an article in Huffington Post, linked from their home page for 24 hours.



 

What happened at UNGASS?

April's UNGASS was called at the request of the governments of Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala, nations for which the illicit drug trade creates security issues. Their hope was the UNGASS would be a platform for discussing fundamental issues and beginning a new course.

Reform met with resistance. Hard-line countries led by Russia and China opposed or diluted most reform-oriented proposals. European governments downplayed the importance of this NYC-based session, wishing to keep the center of gravity in UN drug policy in the smaller Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), based in Vienna, Austria. The UN works mainly by consensus, which meant there were limits on what any country or faction could accomplish.

The US, while advocating some good stances, opposed treaty reform, despite (or perhaps because of) the treaty issues that marijuana legalization presents. Reportedly the US lobbied other countries to oppose treaty reform as well. As a result, perhaps, many countries' position statements for UNGASS called for "commitment to the three UN drug conventions" or to "the integrity of the conventions" – code language for not changing them.

There were some victories. As part of the process, UN agencies submitted their own position papers, many highly progressive, as were the submissions from some countries and international organizations. EU states and others fought hard for language opposing the death penalty for drug offenses, though unsuccessfully. All that discussion is on the record. Civil society engagement brought more groups into drug policy reform, more fully, and NGOs gained more involvement.

And while the UNGASS Outcome Document avoids most big issues, it puts strong emphasis on treatment and alternatives to incarceration. It acknowledges the importance of human rights and proportionate sentencing. It has support for naloxone (the overdose antidote), medication-assisted treatment (e.g. methadone and buprenorphine), and safe injecting equipment, though avoiding the term "harm reduction" itself. It calls for addressing obstacles to opioid availability.

A detailed UNGASS report by the International Drug Policy Consortium is online here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Editorial: Things Were Different Back Then

To mark Drug War Chronicle's 1,000th issue, we asked our former associate director and the publication's first editor for a guest editorial.

A thousand issues is a long run for a weekly publication, particularly one that’s been published entirely online.

Adam J. Smith (craftcannabisalliance.org)
I first got involved with DRCNet (as StopTheDrugWar.org was called in those days) as a law student back in 1994. At that time, DRCNet was a single email discussion list that Dave Borden had launched from his bedroom computer in Boston. When I joined, the list was comprised of perhaps 30-40 activists of various stripes (needle exchangers, cannabis activists, prison reformers, etc.) from around the country, with a couple of international participants thrown in. At that moment in history, fewer than 12% of Americans had Internet access, and fewer than 25% believed that cannabis should be legal for adults. Reform seemed a long way off, but we were engaged in the first serious drug policy reform efforts online, and we were convinced (despite the snickerings of more than a few old school organizers) that the Internet was going to enable us change the world.

By 1996, I had finished law school and moved down to Washington DC, to become DRCNet’s Associate Director (which sounds impressive, until you know that there were only two of us) where our little discussion list had become an actual, if small, organization, with multiple topic-oriented discussion lists and a growing web presence. Despite its small size and smaller budget, DRCNet was, unequivocally, the center of drug policy reform on the Internet. It was an interesting time, and an interesting place to be.

When we launched The Week Online, in the summer of 1997, long before it was re-named Drug War Chronicle, the percentage of Americans with Internet access had climbed all the way to 18%.

Our first several issues were mainly a re-cap of our recent action alerts, blurbs about key news stories, a link of the week, and my editorial. Truly, we were making it up as we went along.

In those days, the mainstream media covered drug busts and drug hysteria far more than they covered actual policy. Because why cover policy when there was such broad agreement that this was a law enforcement problem? When they did cover policy, it was generally framed as a debate between those who wanted to build more prisons, and those who wanted to build A LOT more prisons. Quotes were spread evenly between law enforcement and grandstanding politicians, with occasional input from hackish “think tanks” such as Joe Califano's Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse, or someone from the Drug Free America Foundation.

That was not the conversation we were having online.

Into that breach, we quickly expanded both the breadth and the scope of The Week Online. We began covering stories on our own -- often the same stories that the MSM was covering -- but with quotes and perspectives from experts and professionals who had a very different take on both drugs and drug policy. The experts that we were quoting had the advantage of being far more experienced, and far more credible in their fields than anyone being highlighted in the mainstream press. And people started to listen.

We were the only online publication in the country covering drug policy from a reform perspective, and it felt important. Over time, The Week Online’s readership grew considerably, and it soon became a must read for anyone -- in government, public health, academia, or advocacy -- involved in these issues. We did interviews, and broke national stories. We highlighted injustice, and framed issues. And we did what we could to show how all of these issues, and all of the various efforts at reform starting to bubble up around the country, were connected as part of a larger movement that was just starting to assert itself in the national dialogue.

For the first 138 issues, The Week Online was the centerpiece of my work and my activism. The publication brought me into contact with many of the most knowledgeable, engaging, and courageous voices in drug policy reform, and I could not have asked for a better seat at the table, nor for a richer opportunity to delve deeply into the myriad areas being impacted by our nation’s second disastrous foray into Prohibition.

When I left DRCNet in May of 2000, I was exhausted from the grind, but I was thrilled to see my chair filled by Phil Smith. Phil has long since surpassed my time at the helm, and it has been his hard work and unwavering dedication, along with Dave Borden's steady and often quirkily brilliant leadership that has brought the (now) Drug War Chronicle to the almost unbelievable accomplishment of a thousand issues.

A lot has changed since July 1997. The Internet is ubiquitous, of course, and drug policy is being covered in thoughtful and intelligent ways across a range of media. Cannabis is legal in eight states and counting, with 64% of Americans, including 51% of Republicans in favor. Ending mass incarceration too, has bipartisan support, and substances like MDMA and psychedelics are seen as promising medical options. And the drug war -- that failed, expensive and destructive experiment in controlling people’s consciousness at the point of a gun -- is crumbling across the hemisphere beneath the weight of its own insanity.

And every week Drug War Chronicle, that original online news source for a movement that has gone global, is there.

Congratulations to Phil and Dave on reaching issue #1,000. And thanks to everyone who has ever written a piece, or provided insight and perspective, for being part of what is undoubtedly one of the longest-running weekly newsmagazines on the Internet. I truly believe that this publication set a standard that helped move the public debate forward, and I am honored to have been a part of that. May our collective progress towards rational and humane drug policies continue. And may there be no need for issue #2,000.

The 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, October 11-14, Atlanta

The 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference will convene in Atlanta, Georgia on October 11-14. More than 1,500 people who believe the war on drugs has failed will be in attendance to network, to strategize and to lift up policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

Attendees will join a broad range of drug policy stakeholders -- activists, academics, healthcare and public health advocates, veterans, formerly incarcerated people, elected officials, students, and many others from around the country and across the globe!

This year, attendees will have the opportunity to spend three days deepening connections with people committed to finding alternatives to the war on drugs while participating in sessions facilitated by leading experts.

Visit http://www.reformconference.org to register. Get updates on the Reform Conference on Facebook and Twitter, and follow hashtag #NoMoreDrugWar.

Atlanta, GA
United States

The 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, October 11-14, Atlanta

The 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference will convene in Atlanta, Georgia on October 11-14. More than 1,500 people who believe the war on drugs has failed will be in attendance to network, to strategize and to lift up policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

Attendees will join a broad range of drug policy stakeholders -- activists, academics, healthcare and public health advocates, veterans, formerly incarcerated people, elected officials, students, and many others from around the country and across the globe!

vigil at 2009 DPA conference, Albuquerque
This year, attendees will have the opportunity to spend three days deepening connections with people committed to finding alternatives to the war on drugs while participating in sessions facilitated by leading experts.

Visit http://www.reformconference.org to register. Get updates on the Reform Conference on Facebook and Twitter, and follow hashtag #NoMoreDrugWar.

The reduced rate we announced for Atlanta-area residents is good through this Tuesday, October 3rd. Email asha bandele for information, and if you already have the discount code but haven't registered yet, please do so by Tuesday.

The 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, October 11-14, Atlanta

The 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference will convene in Atlanta, Georgia on October 11-14. More than 1,500 people who believe the war on drugs has failed will be in attendance to network, to strategize and to lift up policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

Attendees will join a broad range of drug policy stakeholders -- activists, academics, healthcare and public health advocates, veterans, formerly incarcerated people, elected officials, students, and many others from around the country and across the globe!

This year, attendees will have the opportunity to spend three days deepening connections with people committed to finding alternatives to the war on drugs while participating in sessions facilitated by leading experts.

Visit http://www.reformconference.org to register. Get updates on the Reform Conference on Facebook and Twitter, and follow hashtag #NoMoreDrugWar.

A reduced rate is temporarily available for Atlanta-area residents -- email asha bandele for information.

Atlanta, GA
United States

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