Drug Policy

Michel D. Kazatchkine


Drug Policy Descends on Geneva

Posted: 09/30/2013 9:37 am

All the members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) will meet in Geneva this week and it has certainly been a privilege to be a part of the Commission's efforts these past three years and I have to admit, an exciting group to be working with.
Clearly, one should not underestimate how far we have come these past few years on the international drug debate.
Despite so many governments still strongly supporting the view that prohibition may solve the drug problem and lead us to an illusionary "drug-free world", the decision that was taken to hold a special session of the UN General Assembly in 2016, eighteen years after the last UNGASS on drugs, provides a true opportunity for a critical review of the currently dominant paradigms.
In the last two years, we have witnessed the lucid and courageous stands recently taken by the Heads of State of Columbia, Guatemala, Uruguay and Mexico, the Uruguayan Parliament voting on legalization/regulation of cannabis, and American voters supporting the legalization of cannabis in the states of Washington and Colorado. In Eastern Europe, we have seen Ukraine adopting a progressive framework on drugs and the Minister of Justice of Georgia advocating for decriminalization of use.
And the joint GCDP/ International AIDS Society event on drug policy in Asia held before the IAS 2013 conference in Kuala Lumpur a few months ago, I also think exceeded everyone's expectations. It was thoughtful and provoking and notable for the diversity of its speakers and it became clear very early in the event to me that changes are happening, albeit slowly.
I am convinced that most of these moves forward would not have been possible five years ago.
Next week's meeting comes at an important time. Discussion are just beginning with the so-called inter-sessional meetings at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna in preparation for the "high level ministerial segment " taking place at the CND annual meeting next March.
I think we all feel that next year's CND meeting will be an important step in the process leading to the 2016 UNGASS meeting. I am aware that the there is debate over to what degree the preparatory process for 2016 should be taking place in Vienna under the auspices of UNODC (and people justifiably cite the parallel with preparatory process leading into the HIV/AIDS UNGASS as being UNAIDS led), supported by the U.S., China, Russia and the view that the debate has to primarily take place in New York, as advocated by Latin American countries. The concerns are legitimate and given the more prohibitionist spirit prevailing in Vienna, this is by no means a benign debate.
Next week's meeting of the Commissioners will mainly focus on the content of the messages that the Commission wishes to carry in the two years leading into UNGASS. These will focus on shifting the debate from a prohibitionist/law enforcement paradigm to public health-oriented policies and scenarios. I do not foresee the Commission asking for a revision of the key International Conventions, which is not needed to implement significant changes in policy at the country level (as exemplified by Switzerland or Portugal) and, politically, would take us no-where.
I look forward to a fruitful few days with my fellow Commissioners.

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