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March 27, 2008 ­ Transform (UK)

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

Original at Transform Drug Policy Foundation: Media Blog -- Transform Drug Policy Foundation (TDPF) is the UK's leading centre of expertise on drug policy and law reform

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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 Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna earlier this month. (The report is available in scanned PDF at the Transform website.)

It states:

"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 multilateralism 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." (p.10)

"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)

"The second unintended consequence is what one night call policy displacement. Public health, which is clearly the first principle of drug controlwas displaced into the background". (p.10)

"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. Mr Costa is to be congratulated 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.

"It is to be hoped that the issues that the Director has raised are seriously debated by and amongst member states in the coming year of review for the UN drug strategy. Despite the positive words from the UNODC director this substantive debate has clearly not begun yet."


Contact: Danny Kushlick, Director +44 (0) 7970 174747 -- Steve Rolles, Information Officer +44 (0) 7980 213943

Notes for Editors:

"Making Drug Control 'Fit For Purpose': Building On The UNGASS Decade" is available in full on the Transform website (scanned pdf -- 3 megs). It has not been made publicly available along with the documentation on the UNODC (as of this writing)

In its review of UK drug policy of 2002 the UK Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee made 24 recommendations including:

"That the Government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways -- including the possibility of legalisation and regulation -- to tackle the global drugs dilemma." (recommendation 24)

In 2003 the UK Government published the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report on drug policy, demonstrating that global supply side enforcement was responsible for many of the harms associated with the trade and use of heroin and cocaine. Full report available here -- Transform briefing on the report here )

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