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UNODC Director Declares International Drug Control System Not 'Fit For Purpose'

In an extraordinarily candid report, the head of the UN agency responsible for overseeing the international conventions on drugs, describes the multi-lateral drug control system as not 'fit for purpose'. He also explains how the international regime has created significant unintended consequences.

The report, "Making Drug Control 'Fit For Purpose': Building On The UNGASS Decade" was made available, but not widely disseminated, at the March 2008 meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. Here's some excerpts:

"There is indeed a spirit of reform in the air, to make the conventions fit for purpose and adapt them to a reality on the ground that is considerably different from the time they were drafted. With the multilateral machinery to adapt the conventions already available, all we need is: first, a renewed commitment to the principles of multi-lateralism and shared responsibility; secondly, a commitment to base our reform on empirical evidence and not ideology; and thirdly, to put in place concrete actions that support the above, going beyond mere rhetoric and pronouncement." (p.13)

"Looking back over the last century, we can see that the control system and its application have had several unintended consequences -- they may or may not have been unexpected but they were certainly unintended. The first unintended consequence is a huge criminal black market that thrives in order to get prohibited substances from producers to consumers, whether driven by a 'supply push' or a 'demand pull', the financial incentives to enter this market are enormous. There is no shortage of criminals competing to claw out a share of a market in which hundred fold increases in price from production to retail are not uncommon." (p.10)

Sunil Aggarwal, Seattle medical marijuana specialist and activist, and Jack Cole, director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) at Beyond 2008: An International NGO Forum in Vancouver, Canada, hosted by the Centre for Addictions Research of BC in February. This event, attended by November Coalition's Nora Callahan, was a prelude to the March 2008 meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria

"The second unintended consequence is what one might call policy displacement. Public health, which is clearly the first principle of drug control.was displaced into the background. The third unintended consequence is geographical displacement. lt is often called the 'balloon effect' because squeezing (by tighter controls) one place produces a swelling (namely an increase) in another place." (p.10)

"A system appears to have been created in which those who fall into the web of addiction find themselves excluded and marginalized from the social mainstream, tainted with a moral stigma, and often unable to find treatment even when they may be motivated to want it." (p.11) "The concept of harm reduction is often made into an unnecessarily controversial issue as if there were a contradiction between (i) prevention and treatment on one hand and (ii) reducing the adverse health and social consequences of drug use on the other hand. This is a false dichotomy. These policies are complementary." (p.18) "It stands to reason, then, that drug control, and the implementation of the drug Conventions, must proceed with due regard to health and human rights." (p.19)

Danny Kushlick, Transform Drug Policy Foundation Director said, "This report is a welcome contrast to the politically motivated rhetoric that has dominated much of the Commission on Narcotic Drug's deliberations in the past. Congratulations to all for clearly stating what many in the drug policy reform movement have been saying for decades. That, for all its good intentions, the international drug control system has created unsustainable negative consequences and that its fitness for purpose in the modern world, and possible reforms, must be fundamentally explored.

Source: Transform Drug Policy Foundation at

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