Collapse of the Global Order on Drugs: From UNGASS 2016 to Review 2019

Cover of Collapse of the Global Order on Drugs: From UNGASS 2016 to Review 2019
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Synopsis

Table of contents

(18 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-xxi
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Introduction

Pages 1-19
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Abstract

The landscape for international drug policy is shifting rapidly as the tensions between the objectives, assumptions and activities that are being introduced at local level are tearing apart the assumptions on which the system was founded. Countries are divided into camps that pursue different aims with drug policy. In addition to an established distinction between those that seek to reduce drug harms and those pursuing a vision of a drug-free world, some UN member states have established licit markets for products that the conventions hold are available for medical and scientific purposes. This incongruence is matched by states in the other camp who apply capital and corporal punishment ostensibly in pursuit of a public health objective. These differences over underlying values, but also in the use of evidence, and interpreting the purpose of the drug control system are no longer reconcilable. While there is pressure on maintaining the system, it no longer serves an organic function and continues mainly for the benefit of constituent members. With the dissolution of US leadership, drug policy is no longer operating within an effective international framework.

Abstract

This chapter reviews the history of civil society engagement on drug policy at the UN. Despite the challenging beginnings characterised by small numbers of civil society attendees at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, coupled with government mistrust, in the last two decades, civil society representatives have made visible progress in advocating for policy reform and changing the terms of the debate.

Efforts by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the lead up to, as well as during the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), best illustrate this increase in impact and engagement. Reform-orientated civil society strategised heavily on how to bring ‘comprehensive, diverse, balanced, and inclusive’ representation to the UNGASS and achieved this through the Civil Society Task Force, which was carefully balanced in terms of geographic, gender and ideological diversity, and included nine representatives from affected populations, including people who use drugs, people in recovery from drug use disorders, families, youth, farmers of crops deemed illicit, harm reduction, prevention, access to controlled medicines and criminal justice.

The 2016 UNGASS saw the fruition of greater civil society engagement. Eleven speakers were chosen to speak in the forum showcasing the calibre and diversity of civil society representatives. They made powerful, at times poignant statements and pleas for better, more compassionate treatment of people who use drugs, farmers of crops deemed illicit, as well as respect for human rights, sustainable livelihoods and the need to approach the issue through a public health and human rights lens.

The chapter concludes with the finding that reform-orientated civil society had a significant impact on the UNGASS – both on the gains in the Outcome Document and at the actual event, while noting that the most impactful ways to influence has nonetheless been through reform advocacy efforts outside of the official civil society mechanisms. Civil society engagement remains a serious challenge. International solidarity and global networking remain a central part of the drug policy reform movement’s strategy to advocate for change at the national, regional and global levels.

Abstract

The intersection between drug control and the death penalty represents a key nexus for human rights and drug reform advocacy and constitutes one of the most visible examples of the link between abusive law enforcement and drug control in the current period. The issue has emerged as a flashpoint of international debates on drugs and is one that raises important questions and challenges for both ‘abolitionist’ countries that oppose the death penalty and ‘retentionist’ States that continue to execute people. The death penalty for drug offences cannot be dismissed as simply an internal matter for States. Not only do executions for drug offences violate significant international human rights legal protections, domestic capital punishment laws in many cases cannot be separated from the influence of the international drug control treaty regime. This chapter will explore the question of the death penalty for drug offences and the challenges it presents for the international drug control regime more broadly.1

Abstract

This chapter analyses major issues surrounding the Annual Report Questionnaire (ARQ) – the key mechanism through which the UN collects data on various facets of the world’s illicit drug market. As the ARQ is currently under review by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the authors suggest ways to incorporate the gains made at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem.

The UNGASS Outcome Document has, to certain degree, enabled the international community to move away from the simplistic goals of a drug-free world enshrined in the 2009 Political Declaration and towards a more comprehensive health- and human rights-based approach. The UNGASS has also laid important groundwork for the 2019 Ministerial Segment, where member states will delineate the global drug control approach for the next decade. In this context, the issue of metrics and indicators has a critical political role to play as it will shape how member states will measure progress against their international drug control commitments.

Starting with a review of the ‘triple trouble’ – poor data quality, low response rates from Member States and other inconsistencies that have long persisted with the ARQ – the chapter moves on to offer substantive critiques on the content of the Questionnaire and ways to better incorporate issues related to health, human rights and development. The chapter concludes by providing guidance on possible synergies with the Outcome Document and the Sustainable Development Goals, bringing international drug control in line with the UN Charter.

Abstract

This chapter discusses the genealogy and development of the ‘access abyss in palliative care and pain relief’ affecting 80 per cent of the world’s people. It argues that the larger context is an epistemic abyss constituted by incomplete information about the need for controlled medicines for pain relief, and that decades of drug policy based on supply control have prevented development of the necessary knowledge base in many countries. Transnational civil society organisations are working to map and bridge this abyss through education, advocacy and action. Deeper (original) systemic and tensions in the original multilateral drug control narrative produced the current epistemic/clinical abysses and now provide space for more participatory civil society involvement. Where the earlier narrative focussed on a fear-based drive to discipline and punish non-medical use of controlled substances, the evolving (and still contested) ‘world drug problem’ narrative foregrounds person centred, human rights based, public health approaches to drug policy that explicitly support improved access to internationally controlled essential medicines. Recommended policies can only be operationalised through a concerted ‘all hands on deck’ effort guided by the international law principle of ‘mutual and shared responsibility’ for improving access within the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This calls for enhanced communication, concerted advocacy, collaboration and pluralist praxis to fill the often gaping abyss between ‘black letter law’ — what is actually written in the drug control conventions — and how member states learn to interpret and operationalise it.

Abstract

This chapter looks at the past, present and future of international cannabis control required by the UN drug control conventions in the post-2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session era with an eye on the next High Level Ministerial Segment (HLMS) at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2019, and beyond. From a policy analysis perspective, the author meanders through the increasing tendency to legally regulate recreational cannabis markets notwithstanding the obligation enshrined in the UN drug control conventions to limit cannabis exclusively for ‘medical and scientific’ purposes. Taking into account relevant national and international developments, the chapter describes how the growing discomfort with the status of cannabis and the prohibitive and punitive approach stemming from the international drug control regime went through a process from soft to hard defections of the treaty obligations. The case of the Netherlands demonstrates the difficulty faced by reform-minded states in reconciling their wish for a different cannabis control mechanism with their obligations under international law, resulting in an incomplete regulation of its coffee-shop system, where small amounts of cannabis are tolerated for sale, but where the illicit supply to the shops remained unregulated. Subsequent more wide-ranging reforms to regulate cannabis from seed to sale in Uruguay, several US States and – in 2018 – in Canada, are clearly violating the obligations of the UN drug control conventions. Nevertheless, the HLMS will likely leave the elephant in the room untouched. The emerging paradigm shift regarding cannabis shows that a modernisation of the UN drug control regime is long overdue. This chapter discusses some of the options available.

Abstract

The United Nations General Assembly Special Session on drugs has provided countries with internationally agreed recommendations to adapt their drug policies for more efficiency and better outcomes. This chapter focusses on the Russian Federation’s role in international drug policy, through an analysis of its national approaches and their design, as well as on its diplomatic efforts at the bilateral and multilateral levels to oppose drug policy reform. A systematic review of peer-reviewed, grey literature, policy documents, UN reports and news reports on the country’s response to drugs internally and externally was conducted between September and December 2017. Despite its efforts to oppose drug policy reform and the prioritisation of public health, the Russian Federation faces major epidemics of imprisonment and HIV. Internationally, while it has not been successful in addressing the ongoing reforms in Europe and the Americas, it has been effective in preserving its international priorities by opposing harm reduction and maintaining the prohibition paradigm at the multilateral level.

Abstract

In the years leading up to United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS), Southeast Asia drew the attention of the drug policy world because of its refusal to drop the goal of becoming a drug-free region and for the extreme methods used in striving to achieve it. This chapter presents an analysis of the official positions taken by governments in the regional body known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations from before until after the UNGASS in the context of one of the most punitive drug policy environments in the world and offers a perspective on what we could expect from them in 2019.

Abstract

States in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have historically leaned towards conservative, reactionary models of drugs policy. The combination of authoritarian forms of government, whether dynastic monarchies (Morocco, Jordan and Persian Gulf countries), semi-military republics (Syria, Egypt and Algeria) or religiously sanctioned republics (Iran), with the strong influence of Islamic law and norms, has signified that the region has enforced strict forms of drug prohibitions. For that matter, the region is home to cultural and social norms that are less permissive than in other regions of the world: for instance, with regard to premarital sex, homosexuality, clothing, alcoholic drinks and freedom of expression. This image of the MENA region is often overplayed by media commentators and Western scholars, especially in the field of drugs policy. The almost total absence of studies of drugs policy or drugs history in the MENA, excluding works in epidemiology, speaks well about the oblivion to which the region has been relegated over the last decades. The chapter provides first a background on the main questions regarding MENA drugs policy, looking at the historical developments in drug regulations and drug trends. Then, it discusses the current policies that operate across the region and, if pertinent, the prospects of policy development. When necessary, the argument refers to contextual elements that have influenced the direction in national and transitional drugs policy. Conscious of the fact that the MENA is as vast and diverse as a continent, I have opted to focus on three paradigmatic cases (Iran, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia), which provide an adequate geographical and thematic coverage of the MENA drugs policy. The three cases cover different aspects of today’s MENA drugs policy spectrum, from draconian repressive measures to progressive harm reduction programmes. Taken in their geographical dimension one can appreciate the variety and difference that exists within the MENA region, therefore supporting one of the key objectives of this chapter, which is to provide a nuanced analysis of drugs policy against the grain of homogenising and culturally reductive approaches.

Abstract

Both Bolivia and Uruguay broke ranks with the global drug prohibition regime by introducing novel drug policies. State control of the production and supply of coca and cannabis represents a clear departure from both the spirit and the letter of the international drug conventions. Although, the rationale, processes and outcomes of policy change were distinctive in many regards, this chapter posits that there are conceptual resemblances. In both countries, the leadership of a charismatic and idiosyncratic president has to be considered. Furthermore, in both countries, mobilisation and activism were also decisive. Lastly, in both countries novel drug policy responded to specific problems that decision-makers faced. Approaching drug policy reforms in Bolivia and Uruguay in terms of personal leadership, mobilisation and policy problems provides a useful analytical first-cut to assess the continuity and change in drug policy observable elsewhere. Additionally, scrutinising the reasons and motivations for undertaking drug policy reform also allows to better understand each country’s behaviour on the international stage.

Abstract

In Europe, the Netherlands, Portugal and the Czech Republic are the countries increasingly portrayed as having the most ‘progressive’, ‘liberal’, or even ‘radical’ drugs policies in Europe. In a post-United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) 2016 period and with the 2019 UN target date approaching, the EU and these countries within are bound to play a key role in the definition of an international drug policy for the next decade. This chapter analyses how the perceptions of these countries match against the drugs legislations and how they fit into the overall EU drug policy approach.

Abstract

This chapter provides a critical exploration of the European Union’s impact on the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) proceedings and Outcome document. It demonstrates that the ability to produce a European ‘common position’ ahead of the UNGASS debates represents a significant step forward in the ability to ‘speak with one voice’ in the global illicit drug policy arena, and has played an important role in ensuring key issues such as human rights and public health remain on the agenda. In highlights, however, a European failure to engage with issues such as the continuing suitability of the international drug conventions to preside over the current climate of drug policy innovation and experimentation, and the unintended consequences of a ‘war on drugs’ approach. Ultimately, therefore, it argues that these failures will hamper the development of a more progressive and effective global drug policy.

Abstract

This chapter explores the historical context of drug control in the United States, the ongoing regulation of the cannabis market at the State level and the role of the United States in the international negotiations related to the United Nations General Assembly Special Sessions (UNGASS) on drugs in 1998 and 2016. We continue by analysing the position, allies and activities of the United States before and during UNGASS 2016 to provide an understanding of possible scenarios related to the 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action review to take place via a High-level Ministerial Segment within the 2019 Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting. While US drug policy is not expected to positively shift in the next few years, State-level regulation of cannabis is expected to continue and create pressure from below.

West Africa

Pages 269-276
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Abstract

As in other parts of the world, the ‘war on drugs’ in West Africa has led to significant focus on criminal justice, compromising public health and human rights without reducing the scale of drug trafficking, production and use. West Africa is not only a transit zone, local production and consumption continue to rise unabated. The Economic Community of West African States has described drug issues as the enemy of the state and the rule of law, and has called on members States to fight the ‘scourge’.

The failure of the current policies has been vividly documented by the West Africa Commission on Drugs through its 2014 report titled ‘‘Not Just in Transit: Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa’’.

In response, civil society organisations and activists have contributed to raising awareness of the harm being caused by the current repressive drug policies in West Africa and engaged their respective national governments in evidence-based drug policy reform.

These engagements culminated in regional consultations that gave birth to the West African Common Position for the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) with a call for harm reduction and an evidence based drug policy for the region. Unfortunately, the UNGASS outcome was not as revolutionary as expected by the West African progressive voices, who have therefore continued to engage their governments to make the 2019 High Level Ministerial segment a turning point in the global drug debate.

Abstract

The Swiss drug policy once was very progressive in the 1990s when the harm related to drug use was most visible to the public. Failure of repression opened the room for more innovative harm reduction approaches. In 2008, the four-pillar model including the legal basis for substitution and heroin-assisted treatment of opioid use disorders as well as for other harm reduction facilities was approved by the population that had learned about the success of these measures. Less violence, better health outcomes among people who use drugs and less stigma supported the change of attitudes in the population towards a public health-based approach when dealing with drug use. Switzerland first received heavy criticism for the autonomous policy change at the international level while it is nowadays often cited as best practice example for dealing with people with an opioid use disorder. Otherwise, the country has usually been quiet in drug policy discussions at the UN level. Nevertheless, Switzerland’s reappointment to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the central drug policy-making body within the United Nations for a period of four years starting in 2018 is promising, given their unblemished recommendation for human rights-based drug policies including the abolition of the death penalty for drug offences, among other things. Alongside cannabis policy changes at the international level, Switzerland witnessed an unexpected development in cannabis availability and sales. However, the country is still rather conservative with regard to current cannabis policies, although cannabis with less than 1% of THC can be sold legally and the possession of up to 10 g will be followed by a fine only, if at all. Switzerland is open to experiment with new regulations but only if the law allows for that. To conclude, the strong sense of connectedness with the international community may support Switzerland’s next steps towards public health and evidence-based harm reduction.

Epilogue

Pages 289-291
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Index

Pages 293-304
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Cover of Collapse of the Global Order on Drugs: From UNGASS 2016 to Review 2019
DOI
10.1108/9781787564879
Publication date
2018-10-15
Editors
ISBN
978-1-78756-488-6
eISBN
978-1-78756-487-9