Ideology prevails in the International Narcotics Control Boards’ annual report

Raymond-Yans The INCB, a panel of experts based at the UN, released their annual report earlier this month serving to reaffirm that when it comes to international drug policy, logic and common sense continue to be thrown out of the proverbial window. The report emphasises “the importance of universal implementation of international drug control treaties by all states” and lets it be known that the board “deeply regret the developments at the state level in Colorado and Washington, in the United States, regarding the legalization of the recreational use of cannabis,” Legal marijuana in Colorado, Washington, as well as Uruguay, breaches the international drug treaties in an unprecedented way, and the INCB are clearly disappointed with this direct challenge to the international prohibitionist consensus.

This latest attempt to grant legal and institutional weight to international drug policy has provoked much criticism. Danny Kushlick, head of external affairs at Transform Drug Policy Foundation, a charitable think tank that campaigns for legal regulation of drugs in the UK and abroad, gave a scathing critique of the INCB, claiming it “defends treaties that are fraught with scientific and legal inconsistencies” and that with the release of this latest report ‘appears to have signed its own death warrant”.

The ICNB’s disappointment with the legal regulation of cannabis appears to be based on little besides the fact that it doesn’t conform to the International Treaties that brought the board into being. They cite ‘increased public health costs’, noting that government revenue from the legal sale of alcohol and tobacco is less than the economic and health costs of their abuse. This seems like a misguided comparison to make given that both tobacco and alcohol are considerably more toxic and addictive than cannabis.

When you also take into consideration that the people of Colorado and Washington have democratically expressed a desire to have safe, regulated access to the drug, the INCB’s stance looks like yet another attempt to grasp to a policy that’s rapidly losing credibility. Such stubborn defence of the war on drugs, the most consistent characteristic of which has been human suffering, has come to define the INCB.

One doesn’t have to look far to see examples of this. Their report last year was heavily criticised for overlooking human rights violations in punishing drug offenders, particularly in Saudia Arabia. In this regard the body has long taken a position that is inconsistent with international norms. Last year they welcomed Vietnam’s drug treatment measures, despite a UN report raising serious human right’s concerns with the country’s drug treatment and detention centres.

On the contrary the ICNB were swift to blast Denmark this time around for introducing ‘drug consumption rooms’, and in doing so continued their history of condemning methods proven to reduce overdoses and transmission of diseases.  Indeed it is very revealing that ‘Harm reduction’ was mentioned just once in the report. Reduction international estimates there are around 1000 people executed for drug offenses each year, and there are countless more preventable HIV and HIC infections. The INCB’s suspect attitude with respect to these topics is perhaps what does most to damage its waning credibility.

The ICNB, and indeed the illogical drug policy it staunchly defends, continues to fail to account for the fact that people take drugs not because they are criminals but because they want to experience an altered state of mind. Sometimes this becomes destructive and harmful, and such individuals are often a danger to others as well as themselves. In this instance their drug usage amounts to a health problem. Any criminal elements however, have been manufactured and serve not to deter or protect but rather to stimigitize and punish.

As Ann Fordham, the executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium concludes, “The entire UN drug control system needs to be rebalanced further in the direction of health rather than criminalization, and it is changing; the shift in various parts of the system is apparent already.” A much-welcomed move in this direction looks set to continue, in spite of the unwavering stance of the INCB.


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