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(28,784 posts)
Sun Dec 1, 2013, 03:12 AM Dec 2013

Leaked paper reveals UN split over war on drugs

Last edited Sun Dec 1, 2013, 03:46 AM - Edit history (1)


The article says such a leak is rare for UN docs.

Major international divisions over the global "war on drugs" have been revealed in a leaked draft of a UN document setting out the organisation's long-term strategy for combating illicit narcotics.

The draft, written in September and seen by the Observer, shows there are serious and entrenched divisions over the longstanding US-led policy promoting prohibition as an exclusive solution to the problem.

...The divisions highlighted in the draft are potentially important. The document will form the basis of a joint "high-level" statement on drugs to be published in the spring, setting out the UN's thinking. This will then pave the way for a general assembly review, an event that occurs every 10 years, and, in 2016, will confirm the UN's position for the next decade. "The idea that there is a global consensus on drugs policy is fake," said Damon Barrett, deputy director of the charity Harm Reduction International. "The differences have been there for a long time, but you rarely get to see them. It all gets whittled down to the lowest common denominator, when all you see is agreement. But it's interesting to see now what they are arguing about."

...Experts said the level of disagreement showed fault lines were opening up in the globally agreed position on drug control. "Heavy reliance on law enforcement for controlling drugs is yielding a poor return on investment and leading to all kinds of terrible human rights abuses," said Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program. "The withdrawal from the most repressive parts of the drug war has begun – locally, nationally and globally."

I can't link to more paragraphs that talk about different nations' concerns (economic, evidence-based positions, etc.) but South American and EU nations seem to be the most vocal about differences of opinion with previous UN positions. Some of the objections to previous UN statements deal with Portugal's experiment with legalization and treatment rather than criminalization and imprisonment to address the problems of addiction (and non-addiction).

Bolivia already received an exemption from UN standards in January regarding coca leaves.

A major international row with wide-ranging implications for global drugs policy has erupted over the right of Bolivia's indigenous Indian tribes to chew coca leaves, the principal ingredient in cocaine.

...Bolivia obtained a special exemption from the 1961 single convention on narcotic drugs, the framework that governs international drugs policy, allowing its indigenous people to chew the leaves.

Bolivia had argued that the convention was in opposition to its new constitution, adopted in 2009, which obliges it to "protect native and ancestral coca as cultural patrimony" and maintains that coca "in its natural state … is not a narcotic".

South American Indians have chewed coca leaves for centuries. The leaves reputedly provide energy and are said to have medicinal qualities. Supporters of Bolivia's position praised it for standing up for the rights of indigenous people. "The Bolivian move is inspirational and ground-breaking," said Danny Kushlick, head of external affairs at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which promotes drug liberalisation. "It shows that any country that has had enough of the war on drugs can change the terms of its engagement with the UN conventions."

Uruguay has already legalized cannabis - http://www.democraticunderground.com/11701253 but the branch of the UN that deals with illegal drug consumption and production has already spoken against the same in two U.S. states.

Implementing the decisions of popular votes held in the United States in Colorado and Washington to allow for the recreational use of cannabis would be a violation of international laws, the United Nations body tasked with monitoring the production and consumption of narcotics worldwide said today.

The move “would be a violation of international law, namely the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, to which the United States is party,” the President of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Raymond Yans, told the 56th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.


More on Yans' statement here - http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/2012/nov/16/un_drug_agency_concerned_by_marijuana_votes

This UN statement disagreement follows a similar one at the OAS conference in May, 2013, where Latin American nations called for changes in drugs laws while the U.S. disagreed. The OAS statement was groundbreaking in its approach to drug policy among a group of nations.


Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, stated:

“Never before has a multilateral organization engaged in such an inclusive and intellectually legitimate analysis of drug policy options. Indeed, it would have been inconceivable just two years ago that the OAS – or any multilateral organization – would publish a document that considers legalization, decriminalization and other alternatives to prohibitionist policies on an equal footing with status quo policies. Political pressures by the US and other governments would have made that impossible.

Much has changed, however, in the past few years. In 2009, former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), César Gaviria (Colombia) and Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) joined with other members of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy in saying the time had come to “break the taboo” on exploring alternatives to the failed war on drugs. In 2011, those presidents joined with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss and other members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy in calling for fundamental reforms to national and global drug policies. Former presidents Jimmy Carter, Ricardo Lagos (Chile), Vicente Fox (Mexico) and Aleksander Kwasniewski (Poland) were among those who seconded their recommendations.

Beginning in late 2011, current presidents began to join the calls of their predecessors. These included President Santos in Colombia, Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala, José Mujica in Uruguay and then-President Felipe Calderón of Mexico. Simultaneously, the victorious marijuana legalization ballot initiatives in Washington State and Colorado transformed a previously hypothetical debate into real political reform. Other states will almost certainly follow their lead in coming years.

20 replies = new reply since forum marked as read
Highlight: NoneDon't highlight anything 5 newestHighlight 5 most recent replies
Leaked paper reveals UN split over war on drugs (Original Post) RainDog Dec 2013 OP
Time to look at Portugal as the way to move forward. CorrectOfCenter Dec 2013 #1
Not for the bankers who wash the money or the owners of private prisons malaise Dec 2013 #3
Or the law enforcement types that ride the gravy train. Comrade Grumpy Dec 2013 #5
Absolutely correct malaise Dec 2013 #6
It seems the nations involved aren't willing to sign off RainDog Dec 2013 #4
I think Portugual has had a big impact RainDog Dec 2013 #14
This message was self-deleted by its author delrem Dec 2013 #2
This part of the UN RainDog Dec 2013 #8
The global drug prohibition consensus is crumbling before our eyes. Comrade Grumpy Dec 2013 #7
Latin American leaders brought drug policy debate to UN in Sept. 2013 RainDog Dec 2013 #9
This has been bubbling up for some time in Latin America. Comrade Grumpy Dec 2013 #10
yes. RainDog Dec 2013 #12
Xactly. truebluegreen Dec 2013 #20
"South American Indians have chewed coca leaves for centuries." Silent3 Dec 2013 #11
LOL RainDog Dec 2013 #13
Bookmarked BelgianMadCow Dec 2013 #15
Thanks for the kind words RainDog Dec 2013 #16
Another Article on this with a bit more detail omsly Dec 2013 #17
Thanks for the additional info RainDog Dec 2013 #18
I'm going to x-post this link and an excerpt in the Drug Policy Forum RainDog Dec 2013 #19


(272,302 posts)
3. Not for the bankers who wash the money or the owners of private prisons
Sun Dec 1, 2013, 06:46 AM
Dec 2013

who con the government and have all the free labor they want or need.


Comrade Grumpy

(13,184 posts)
5. Or the law enforcement types that ride the gravy train.
Sun Dec 1, 2013, 03:38 PM
Dec 2013

Strong vested interests support the status quo.


(28,784 posts)
4. It seems the nations involved aren't willing to sign off
Sun Dec 1, 2013, 03:36 PM
Dec 2013

I'm glad to see, too, that some nations are not willing to sign off on something that would seem to be more like Yans' version of a statement.

The statement is important because it sets the precedent for UN responses for the next 10 years.


(28,784 posts)
14. I think Portugual has had a big impact
Sun Dec 1, 2013, 10:37 PM
Dec 2013

on the thinking of a lot of people who want to achieve harm reduction in relation to drug issues.

But I also think Latin American nations are tired of the violence associated with policies that began during the Bush administration that caused such a huge increase in violent crimes in relation to the drug war.

Response to RainDog (Original post)


(28,784 posts)
8. This part of the UN
Sun Dec 1, 2013, 03:59 PM
Dec 2013

deals only in illegal drugs as part of the 1961 Single Convention.

via wiki on the Single Convention -

Earlier treaties had only controlled opium, coca, and derivatives such as morphine, heroin and cocaine. The Single Convention, adopted in 1961, consolidated those treaties and broadened their scope to include cannabis and drugs whose effects are similar to those of the drugs specified. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the World Health Organization were empowered to add, remove, and transfer drugs among the treaty's four schedules of controlled substances. The International Narcotics Control Board was put in charge of administering controls on drug production, international trade, and dispensation. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was delegated the Board's day-to-day work of monitoring the situation in each country and working with national authorities to ensure compliance with the Single Convention. This treaty has since been supplemented by the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, which controls LSD, MDMA, and other psychoactive pharmaceuticals, and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, which strengthens provisions against money laundering and other drug-related offenses.

As of May 2013, the Single Convention has 184 state parties. The Holy See plus all members of the UN are state parties, with the exception of Afghanistan, Chad, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Kiribati, Nauru, Samoa, South Sudan, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

...but I get that you're talking about something else, really, in regard to the issue.

Comrade Grumpy

(13,184 posts)
7. The global drug prohibition consensus is crumbling before our eyes.
Sun Dec 1, 2013, 03:39 PM
Dec 2013

The 2016 UNGASS on drugs ought to be very interesting.

Harry Anslinger is spinning in his grave.


(28,784 posts)
9. Latin American leaders brought drug policy debate to UN in Sept. 2013
Sun Dec 1, 2013, 04:18 PM
Dec 2013

At the annual UN General Assembly meeting held in New York, presidents from around the world have the chance to state their views on the key international issues of the day. Not surprisingly, the crisis in Syria, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Millennium Development Goals took center stage this year. Yet a careful viewing of the speeches of the Latin American presidents illustrates the growing voice of Latin American leaders calling for meaningful reform of drug control policies.

Across the region, a dynamic debate – focused on the failure of present drug control policies to achieve their desired objectives and the need for more effective and humane alternatives – is underway, most recently evident in an innovative report on drug policy released by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Declaration of Antigua from the June 2013 OAS General Assembly meeting calling for an Extraordinary Session focused on drug policy to be held in 2014. Last week at the UN, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico united in bringing this regional debate to the General Assembly meeting, calling for consideration of alternative approaches to the drug issue, and for the efforts underway within the OAS to be used as tools for debate within the UN in the lead up to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs to be held in New York in 2016.

The governments of Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico all called for developing more effective responses to drug trafficking based on promoting public health, respect for human rights and harm reduction. (Interestingly, all three countries used “reducción de daños” in their speeches, or harm reduction in English, though it was translated into “impact reduction”, “lessening damages” and “damage reduction” in the three speeches respectively.) In doing so, they essentially called for a paradigm shift – from a security approach to a public health and human rights-based approach – in dealing with issues related to illicit drugs. At the same time they recognized the need to reduce the levels of violence associated with the drug trade and reiterated a growing call from the region for increased international efforts to decrease the illegal flow of arms and money that fuel criminal networks. Finally, they united in calling for an open and wide-ranging debate leading up to the 2016 UNGASS, and pointed to the Declaration of Antigua of the General Assembly of the OAS as a “first step which leads us to the desired direction” towards the 2016 UNGASS.

...Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina went furthest of all in his comments, both in his address to the UN and in a separate speech at Columbia University. At the UN, in addition to the statement coordinated with Costa Rica and Mexico, President Pérez Molina commended the “visionary decision” of the citizens of the States of Colorado and Washington on their recent enactment of legal, regulated marijuana markets, as well as President Obama for his “wise decision of respecting the voice of the citizens of Washington and Colorado, to allow these innovative experiences to provide results.” He also added that the people of Guatemala “respect and are proud of” the government of Uruguay’s actions in proposing legislation regulating the cannabis market instead of “following the failed route of prohibition.” He emphasized the importance of experimentation with new models by each country to address the drug problem and announced the creation of a National Commission to explore more effective means of dealing with drug issues in Guatemala. Finally, he expressed his hope that the 2016 UNGASS “will draw on these innovative experiences, and pronounce itself decisively for public policies that are subject to objective evaluation.”

Comrade Grumpy

(13,184 posts)
10. This has been bubbling up for some time in Latin America.
Sun Dec 1, 2013, 04:23 PM
Dec 2013

You know, the region we exported most of our drug prohibition violence to.


(28,784 posts)
12. yes.
Sun Dec 1, 2013, 05:02 PM
Dec 2013

Two years ago: Commission of World Leaders Urges End to Failed Drug War, Fundamental Reforms of Global Drug Prohibition Regime


and it goes back further than that, but recent changes in U.S. laws and opinion have made the subject more visible.

And Democrats like Clair McCaskill have questioned the funding for the War on Drugs in the U.S. with the majority of funds going to no-bid govt. contractors who have little oversight. She called the war on drugs a failure in


The U.S. government spent over $3 billion in recent years to combat drugs in Latin America, more than half of it to private contractors for planes, surveillance and training.

But a year-long investigation by a Senate subcommittee found little oversight over spending, lost contracts and $840 million in no-bid contracts, according to a report released this morning.

Most of the money went to five contractors: DynCorp; Lockheed Martin; Raytheon; ITT; and ARINC. Virginia-based DynCorp, a private military and aircraft maintenance company, received $1.1 billion of the spending during the five-year period.

More than half of the expenditures were related to aircraft, used for locating and spraying herbicides.

(more good information about drug war spending at the link)

Reagan started spraying fields in Latin American nations with paraquat, poisoning the ground water of people who lived downstream from these actions. This is what really provided the impetus for indoor cannabis growing and hybridization that has created more potent plants - which simply means less consumption for the same effect, but the point, really, is that such actions do not stop the market - they just change it, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways, but always against the intention of the actions.

Leahy made a statement by blocking funds, temporarily, this year.


Senator Patrick Leahy, chair of the Appropriations Committee, blocked release of $95 million dollars in funding for the Merida Initiative, citing the lack of a clear strategy on the part of the U.S. State Department and the Mexican government.

The decision is a long-overdue recognition that the drug war in Mexico has been a bloody fiasco. The Merida Initiative, a Bush-era plan to attack cartels in Mexico and reduce trafficking of prohibited drugs to the U.S. market, began in 2008. Congress has appropriated $1.9 billion dollars from the federal budget for the program over the past five years, most aimed at bolstering Mexican security forces. Since the drug war was launched and armed forces deployed to fight the cartels, the homicide rate in Mexico soared 150%, between 2006 and 2012.

Last August the State Department asked the committee to obligate some $229 million assigned to the Merida Initiative in the 2012 budget. At first, Leahy decided to hold up the entire amount, after receiving a two-and-a-half page explanation from the State Department that he felt failed toadequately describe spending and objectives.

In April, the committee released $134 million,but held up the rest pending more information from State and the Mexican government on how the money would be spent, what the goals were and how the programs and resources would help achieve those goals.



(9,033 posts)
20. Xactly.
Wed Dec 11, 2013, 08:05 PM
Dec 2013

As a current resident of Mexico I can tell you that the question I hear most often is why are "we" fighting the US's drug war--"they" need to deal with their own problems.



(15,909 posts)
11. "South American Indians have chewed coca leaves for centuries."
Sun Dec 1, 2013, 04:23 PM
Dec 2013

Those must be some damned old South American Indians and some awfully tough leaves.


(28,784 posts)
13. LOL
Sun Dec 1, 2013, 05:03 PM
Dec 2013

If this were true, you know it would already be legal and marketed in the U.S. as the secret of a long life...


(5,379 posts)
15. Bookmarked
Sun Dec 1, 2013, 10:40 PM
Dec 2013

Great OP. The false dichotomy between big pharma's drugs and what people want to grow in their backyard doesn't make any sense to me.


(28,784 posts)
16. Thanks for the kind words
Mon Dec 2, 2013, 01:42 AM
Dec 2013

I think the issue is about the unintended consequences (or maybe intentional for some of the more right wing) of the war on drugs, compared to other ways of dealing with this issue that have shown some promise - like Portugal's experiment with legalization of all drugs with rehabilitation taking precedence over incarceration.

In the U.S. this change, along with three strikes laws, etc. has resulted in another round of "Jim Crow," because the law is applied in a racist manner.

The issue of cultural racism applies for Bolivia as well.

And the violence that has been part of an escalation of the war on drugs in Mexico is causing harm to that nation.

One reason I think the U.S. wants to continue the war on drugs as it does is because, like the agriculture dept and its budget, money allocated to the war on drugs can also go to right wing groups within a nation to undermine self-determination - I think that's also part of the issue for Latin American nations with the long, long history of the U.S. interfering with their governments because of the cold war fears of social democracy rather than the right-wing authoritarian regimes the U.S. has traditionally endorsed there.


(1 post)
17. Another Article on this with a bit more detail
Mon Dec 9, 2013, 04:04 PM
Dec 2013

Seems like the UN consensus process is really problematic.

Such documents are whittled down, behind closed doors, into unified policy recommendations. In this case, a consensus statement will be presented at the High-Level Review by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs next March in Vienna. That meeting will set the stage for a Special Session of the U.N. General Assembly in 2016, when member states are expected to outline an updated drug policy for the next decade.

The consensus process, which can give outsized control to already powerful pro-interdiction countries like Russia and the U.S., has come under criticism, says Tom Blickman, a research at the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam.

“If one country is blocking reform, they can be successful,” Blickman told IPS. “Countries are tired – it shouldn’t be this way.”

In negotiations, the EU speaks on behalf of all its members, further homogenising opinion, says Malinowska-Sempruch. “The voice of Portugal and other more progressive countries get drowned out because they are part of a bigger block.”

A spokesperson for UNODC told IPS it had a policy of not commenting on draft documents and would not speak about the consensus process.

More on the INCB

For countries like Uruguay, where marijuana decriminalisation awaits only a procedural Senate vote, skirting the agreements can be a delicate game of geopolitical chicken.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), a quasi-judicial organisation charged with keeping tags on countries’ compliance with the three agreements, threatening the proposed law “would be in contravention of the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs.”

“Looking at Switzerland, or Germany that has heroin injection sites, or Netherlands with coffee shops, or Portugal or Uruguay, it is clear there are countries that think there should be different policies,” said Malinowska-Sempruch.

But while these countries may make headlines – Portugal removed all penalties for drug users in 2000 – smaller states fear offending the likes of the U.S. and Russia, perennial aid sources and holders of Security Council veto power.

Under U.S. law, the Department of State must every year publish a report that includes evaluating whether foreign aid recipients meet the “goals and objectives” of the 1988 agreement.

“Not that many care about drugs enough to fight so hard and make enemies, because they know they will need those votes for what they really care about,” said Malinowska-Sempruch.

Most UNODC funding comes from member states, which can attach strings to “special-purpose funds.”

This means countries can maintain both private and public stances on drug policy. Switzerland, which began offering heroin-assisted treatment for addicts in 2008, backtracked this week in a press statement that stressed the leaked document was part of a “brainstorming” session and that it “does in no way support any efforts or attempts of changing the three U.N. Drug Conventions as they are today.”

As for 2016, Blickman says it’s important the special session be organised not just by UNODC but also by the U.N.’s human rights and development arms.

But while the session could prove a pivotal turning point, activists also say reform will likely first come out of piecemeal efforts to disentangle the conventions’ cascading legal web. Because the agreements exist in so far as countries enforce them, simply ignoring their mandate could as effective as anything else.

“There is leeway in the convention,” says Blikman. If countries start flouting them, the “INCB couldn’t do anything except maybe not allow certain (pharmaceutical) drugs into the country.”

If that trend continues, an ignored INCB could eventually be relegated to the scholarly study of an historical document.


(28,784 posts)
18. Thanks for the additional info
Mon Dec 9, 2013, 08:27 PM
Dec 2013

for copyright reasons, however, unless you have permission (which you would need to note), you're only supposed to include 4 graphs on this site.

I think the doc was leaked b/c smaller nations are really serious about addressing this issue at this time because of the long-term impact such a statement will have on all of them.

It's also interesting that nations feel there is enough public support, research, and international agreement that things need to change. Those are all good signs - signs that there is seriously push back on the outdated models for nations put forth long, long ago.


(28,784 posts)
19. I'm going to x-post this link and an excerpt in the Drug Policy Forum
Tue Dec 10, 2013, 12:10 AM
Dec 2013

To keep track of the issue there.

Thanks again for the article.

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