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United Nations Drug Policy Outcome Document Criticized

United Nations Drug Policy Outcome Document Criticized

By Russ Belville - April 19, 2016

NEW YORK, New York (CRN) – Member states gathered for a Special Session to discuss United Nations drug policy concerning the global war on drugs, criticizing the failure of the UN to call for an end to the death penalty for drug crimes and to recognize the use of harm reduction to cope with problematic drug use.

The session was called for by the Latin and South American nations that are disproportionately suffering the violence engendered by drug prohibition. The Session began with the adoption of a drug policy outcome document produced in consensus with the member states. However, in the first session of the day, nation after nation stood to criticize the document.

This is the first international session on drugs since the 1998 session that promised “A Drug-Free World: We Can Do It“.  Since that session, 24 US states and the US capitol have passed medical cannabis laws and 4 US states and the US capitol have passed personal use marijuana legalization. This has provided a dissonance between official national and international policies forbidding drug legalization leading to this Special Session.

United Nations Drug Policy

President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto at the United Nations

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto spoke before the United Nations, echoing the comments of the Vice Presidents of Costa Rica and Panama. “We must authorize the use of marijuana for scientific and medical purposes,” he said, also adding the the decriminalization of possession of personal use amounts of marijuana should be considered.

“A consensus is beginning to emerge for a substantive reform to the international drug regime,” Peña Nieto continued, noting that production, trafficking, and consumption of illicit substances continues to grow, despite decades of punitive drug war policies. However, it does provide a lucrative business opportunity for organized crime, which he observes has a disproportionate impact in terms of violence and death in the producer and trafficker countries like his.

United Nations Drug Policy

Vice President of Panama Isabel Saint Malo at the United Nations

While Latin and South American delegations, as well as representatives from Switzerland, Norway, and all the European Union generally agreed with Peña Nieto, hard-line drug war countries like Indonesia and China criticized their countries for using drug policy as a method to interfere with their nations’ sovereignty in applying criminal penalties for drugs.

The delegate from Indonesia notes that the death penalty is not against international law. Against all evidence, he claimed that capital punishment acts as a deterrent to drug trafficking crimes.

United Nations Drug Policy

Delegate from Indonesia at the United Nations

The delegate from China was even more direct. “Any form of legalization of narcotics should be resolutely opposed,” he stated. He also attempted to portray China’s hard-line approach to drugs as a success by pointing out how his nation has sent 1.21 million people to “compulsory isolation” for rehabilitation. He called on nations to attack the narcotics problem by going after the manufacture of precursor chemicals for illicit drugs, without a hint of irony that China is the leading producer of many of those precursor chemicals.

United Nations Drug Policy

Overflow hearing room at the United Nations

China also warned against the calls by most other member nations to eliminate the death penalty for drug crimes as an affront to sovereignty. This pronouncement was joined by the governments of Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other notorious human rights abusers.

The audience in the assembly hall is largely made up of drug reform activists from around the world. Statements calling for an end to the death penalty and for drug policies to align with the International Declaration of Human Rights received the greater applause, especially the statement by the Mexican president. Delegates praising the current hard-line status quo received polite applause at best.

United Nations Drug Policy

Jamaican delegate at the United Nations

Another delegate who received enthusiastic applause came from the island nation of Jamaica. She agreed with many of the other countries that opposed the death penalty. She also called for more flexibility in the international treaties to accept the countries, like hers, that have traditional cultural and religious uses of plants (e.g., ganja for Rastafarians).

While delegates inside the United Nations discuss the so-called “scourge” of the “global drug problem”, activists outside across the street demonstrate against the drug war with a small jail cell as a prop. Activists from the Andean region in traditional garb burned traditional herbs while holding coca leaves in their hands.

United Nations Drug Policy

Andean Region Coca Activists outside the UN

In Spanish, one man explained the traditional native uses of coca leaf among the workers of Peru and Chile while a woman translated in English.