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World Leaders Call Upcoming UN Special Session An ‘Historic Opportunity’ to End Failed War on Drugs

Kofi Annan, Richard Branson and Former Presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and Others Release Public Statement that Current Agenda Does Not Go Far Enough to Ending WorldwideHuman Rights, Public Health and Security Crisis

New York, New York –(ENEWSPF)–March 11, 2016.  A bold public statement was released today by the Global Commission on Drug Policy stating that “an historic opportunity to achieve more humane and effective drug policy is at risk.”  The Commission is referring to the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs — a meeting of all UN member states to evaluate the current state of international drug control. The UNGASS is taking place in New York from April 19-21 and is the first such meeting in 18 years.

“We are driven by a sense of urgency,” said Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Former President of Brazil and Chair of the Global Commission.  “There is widespread acknowledgment that the current system is not working, but also recognition that change is both necessary and achievable. We are convinced that the 2016 UNGASS is an historic opportunity to discuss the shortcomings of the drug control regime and identify workable alternatives.”

The Global Commission today called the proposed outcome document for UNGASS (currently being negotiated in Vienna) “long on rhetoric, but short on substance” with “no hard solutions.” The Commission also urges governments to put “people’s health, safety and human rights first.”  According to the statement, this includes:

  • Ending the criminalization and incarceration of drug users;
  • Abolishing capital punishment for drug-related offences;
  • Empowering the World Health Organization (WHO) to review the scheduling system of drugs on the basis of scientific evidence;
  • Ensuring a broad spectrum of treatments for dependent people and services designed to reduce the harms of drugs; and
  • Allowing governments to apply different approaches to drug regulation in order to maximize public health and disempower organized crime.

The Commission believes that global drug prohibition has not only failed to achieve its originally stated objectives of eradicating drug production and consumption, it has also generated alarming social and health problems. The UN itself has identified some of the impacts of hardline approaches to drug prohibition including: the creation of an illegal, criminal market worth at least $US 320 billion per year; dangerous “balloon effects” during which production or traffic is interrupted, only to be increased in a different territory or route; and a lack of access to controlled medicines for 75 percent of the world´s population.

Owing to the dearth of new thinking at the last UN Special Session on drugs in 1998, many countries have taken matters into their own hands.  For example, Switzerland supports maintenance and heroin assisted therapy in order to reduce harms to users. Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2001, with significant crime prevention and public health benefits, including decreasing rates of HIV. Cannabis clubs have sprung up around parts of Spain, and Uruguay has regulated their cannabis market from production, to distribution to sale, with human rights at the center of the strategy.

The U.S. is leading the world in regulating marijuana and paving the way for other countries to follow.  Already 23 states plus Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes; and four states plus Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.  In addition, there is now unprecedented debate among elected officials, including President Obama, about how to transform drug policies to reduce mass incarcerations in the U.S.

The Global Commission hopes that UNGASS 2016 will recognize the international momentum toward adopting drug policies based on science, compassion, public health, and human rights. “The only way to put governments back in control, disempower organized crime, reduce violence and corruption is to regulate drugs according to the harm they cause,” says today’s public statement. “There is still time to get the UNGASS process back on track.”


Founded in 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy is composed of 25 political leaders and intellectuals from around the world including: former Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan; former Secretary of State George Shultz; entrepreneur Richard Branson; former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Paul Volcker; and the former Presidents of: Brazil, Mexico Colombia, Chile, Portugal, Switzerland, Nigeria, Greece and Poland; as well as leaders from the UK, Pakistan, India, Spain, Canada, Norway, Peru and the Czech Republic.

The Global Commission made worldwide news when it came out in support of decriminalization in 2011. In 2014, it released a ground-breaking report that highlighted five pathways to effective drug policies, including: ensuring equitable access to controlled medicines; ending the criminalization of people who use or possess drugs; and promoting alternatives to incarceration for low-level participants in illicit drug markets. In all, the Global Commission has produced five major reports and three documentary films.

Related Material:

Associated Press

Commission Wants UN to Adopt Alternative Drug Policies, By: Dave Bryan, March 11, 2016 — http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/commission-adopt-alternative-drug-policies-37568693

The United Nations has a golden opportunity to promote alternate approaches to global drug policy next month when it meets in New York for a special session, but a high-profile commission said Friday that the work leading up to the meeting has so far been disappointing.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy — whose members include former presidents of Mexico and Brazil, as well as former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson — said in a statement that on-going discussions in Vienna drafting the session’s outcome document rely too heavily on an outdated law-and-order approach that emphasizes criminal justice and prohibition.

Ilona Szabo de Carvalho, the group’s coordinator, said the emphasis should be on alternative approaches to fighting the problem, including decriminalization, abolishing capital punishment for drug-related offenses and a focus on treatment.

Instead, she said, the preparation talks were relying too heavily on traditional methods of fighting drug trafficking and related crimes.

De Carvalho called for a broad political debate on alternative measures at the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on April 19.

David Dadge, a spokesman for the U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna, said he could not immediately comment because he hadn’t yet read the statement.

De Carvalho also acknowledged there have also been “some amazing advances,” since the last special session on drugs 18 years ago.

The commission pointed to new approaches that have been made in dealing with drug issues in many countries, including Portugal, which decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2001 resulting in significant crime prevention and a decrease in rates of HIV.

Uruguay has regulated its cannabis market from production to distribution to sales while emphasizing human rights in its strategy, it said.

The commission cited the U.S. as well, noting that 23 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes and there is now a vigorous debate about how to transform drug policies to reduce the number of people incarcerated in jails and prisons on minor drug offenses.

Such policies, the commission argues, disempower organized crime entities that supply drugs and put governments back in control of the problem.

“Drugs are dangerous, but current narcotics policies are an even bigger threat,” said Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general, in a statement. “This is because punishment is given a greater priority than health and human rights. Prohibition has had virtually no impact on the supply of or demand for illicit drugs.”

Los Angeles Times Op-ed

Three leaders from Latin America call for decriminalizing drug use, By: Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Cesar Gaviria and Ernesto Zedillo, March 11, 2016 — http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0311-presidents-drug-war-fail-20160311-story.html

Outdated drug policies around the world have resulted in soaring drug-related violence, overstretched criminal justice systems, runaway corruption and mangled democratic institutions. After reviewing the evidence, consulting drug policy experts and examining our own failures on this front while in office, we came to an unavoidable conclusion: The “war on drugs” is an unmitigated disaster.

For nearly a decade, we have urged governments and international bodies to promote a more humane, informed and effective approach to dealing with “illegal” drugs. We saw a major breakthrough a few years ago, when the United Nations agreed to convene a special session of the General Assembly to review global drug policy. It is scheduled to begin April 19.

Unfortunately, this historic event — the first of its kind in 18 years — appears to be foundering even before it gets off the ground. What was supposed to be an open, honest and data-driven debate about drug policies has turned into a narrowly conceived closed-door affair.

In the lead-up to next month’s session, the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna held a series of preparatory meetings with its 53 member countries. The commission took responsibility for crafting a declaration to be adopted by all 193 U.N. members of the General Assembly, and should finish next week.

But most of these commission-led negotiations have been neither transparent nor inclusive. Input from key U.N. agencies working on health, gender, human rights and development — and the majority of U.N. member states — was excluded. Likewise, dozens of civil society groups from around the world were shut out of the meetings.

Further, the draft declaration represents a setback rather than a step forward. It does not acknowledge the comprehensive failure of the current drug control system to reduce supply or demand. Instead, it perpetuates the criminalization of producers and consumers. The declaration proposes few practical solutions to improve human rights or public health. In short, it offers little hope of progress to the hundreds of millions of people suffering under our failed global drug control regime.

If the U.N. wants to seriously confront the drug problem in a way that actually promotes the health and welfare of humanity, here are the proposals the General Assembly should adopt.

First, all U.N. member states should end the criminalization and incarceration of drug users — an essential step toward strengthening public health, upholding human rights and ensuring fundamental freedoms. Second, all governments should immediately abolish capital punishment for drug-related offenses. It is a medieval practice that should be stamped out once and for all. Third, U.N. member states must empower the World Health Organization to review the scheduling system of drugs on the basis of science, not ideology.

Most important, diplomats attending the special session on drugs next month must confront the obvious failure of most existing drug laws. The only way to wrest control of the drug trade from organized crime, reduce violence and curb corruption is for governments to control and regulate drugs.

This is not as radical as it sounds. Innovative experiments in drug regulation are underway around the world, and they offer important lessons to those who are prepared to listen.

Switzerland’s national health plan, for example, now supports heroin-assisted treatment and maintenance doses for addicts in order to reduce harm to users. Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2001, with significant crime reduction and public health benefits, including decreasing rates of HIV transmission.

Dramatic changes in drug policy are also taking place across the Americas. In the U.S., 23 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes and four for recreational use. Most Latin American governments are taking steps, albeit timid ones, to decriminalize the consumption of some drugs. Uruguay has gone the furthest: it regulated its cannabis market from production to distribution to sale, with human rights at the center of the country´s strategy.

There is still time to get the U.N. special session back on track, and we hope that will happen. But even if the gathering does not live up to its full potential, we encourage heads of state and governments to test approaches to drugs that are based in scientific evidence and local realities. That’s the only way to arrive at an effective global drug control system that puts people’s lives, safety and dignity first.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso is the former president of Brazil and chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Cesar Gaviria is the former president of Colombia. Ernesto Zedillo is the former president of Mexico.

Source: http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/

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