Encod has sent a delegation to the 54th. session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs
Here is a first impression of Encod’s president Fredrick Polak
23 March 2011
The first day started at 8 am. with a small demonstration along the line of people waiting at the entrance of the UN building for the security procedures.
Our friends from the Hungarian Civil Society Union tried to look like mafia types and handed out 1000 dollar bills with the face of UNODC Executive Director Fedotov, thanking UNODC and CND for fifty years of drug prohibition. On the bills it said “In Prohibition We Trust” and “Say No to Drug Law Reform”.
The problem at the CND meeting is to find out where important and/or interesting things are being discussed or happening – assuming that that may be the case. In the two large rooms where the plenaries are being held, it is only possible to really follow the discussion for teams of people that take turns to listen and make notes, and come together to be up to date on developments. Only the largest NGOs can afford this. Fortunately, there is a lot of personal contact in the corridors, and there one can often pick up useful information.
The following contains no more than a few points of information that seem interesting enough to mention. It is certainly not a complete picture of what went on at the meeting.
Two years ago the WHO received the request or the assignment to report on cannabis. This was the outcome of the Japanese request to include cannabis seeds in the conventions.
Two years later, nothing has happened, because the WHO has no money for this project. It can only start when one or more countries decide to provide money specifically for this, and no country has taken this initiative.
This raises the question which kind of projects do receive sufficient money.
At the meeting with the chair of the INCB, Prof Hamid Ghodse, questions were asked about why INCB regularly criticizes countries that adopt methods such as user rooms, or consumption rooms, which have proven to improve the health of drug users. Mr. Ghodse’s answer was that the question for INCB is not whether a method helps or not, but only whether it complies with the conventions. And as to consumption rooms, this is not the case. So that is what they report. Drugs that are used in a user room were bought on the illegal market. If the drug in question would be prescribed to the same people, it would be ok.
This shows the mechanism of the conventions and the INCB.
There is no regular independent evaluation of the results of the “global drug control system”. What is being controlled and monitored strict- and regularly is the degree to which individual countries comply or not with the conventions.
The effects of specific policies and methods on public and individual health are not relevant to the UN drug control system. When, at the demand of a member state, it is decided to make a report on cannabis and the effects of its use, this is considered as not being part of the regular program of the UN, either UNODC or WHO, and it is left to the political will of individual countries to elaborate it – and then, nothing happens.
On Tuesday afternoon I attended a session organized by ONDCP, the US Office of National Drug Control Policy. The centerpiece was called “Managing drug-involved offenders with HOPE”, a presentation by Prof. Angela Hawken of Pepperdine University in Hawaii. She was introduced by Gil Kerlikowske, director of ONDCP, known as the US drug czar, and by Kevin Sabet, special advisor to ONDCP. This high-level introduction shows how important this project is to the US government.
It is a new approach to enforce a drug-free life style on “drug-involved” probationers, that is after their prison term, during a probation period of up to 5 years. It is called “treatment” but it is a very strictly applied behavioral approach, more like training or drilling. The sanctions on “positive” drug tests are “certain, swift, consistent and modest”. These are the keywords. The last one, modest, is interesting: it starts with two days in prison immediately after the first positive test, so that it severely disrupts the life of the “offending” probationers. On the other hand, it is a lot shorter than the sanctions that still are in use in most drug courts: back to prison for long periods. It seems however, that these harsh sanctions are not always strictly applied.
The outcome of this research is: less drug use, less prison time for probationers, and especially: the need for prison space diminishes.
Hawken duly admitted that the results during the period after probation ends will only be known years from now.
ONDCP clearly sees a lot of promise in this method, because it promises to be cheaper.
And I thought: this seems especially useful for the American government because it does not make large numbers of prison cells superfluous after the repeal of drug prohibition. It creates a system in which the prison cells (that otherwise would become useless) can be used more efficiently than presently, for short stays by larger numbers of “drug offenders”.
The question why these people must be forbidden to use the smallest amounts of drugs even when they have learned to control their use, and followed intensively for years with the threat of immediate, if short, incarceration, was not posed.
The Encod delegation has decided to organise a last farewell to the UN Single Convention on Thursday 24 March 2011, in front of the Vienna International Centre.