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The United Nations' Disappointing Failure to Address Drug Policy Alternatives

Despite a historic shift in drug policy debate, alternatives to prohibition were not discussed at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs last week.
 
 
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As a former prosecutor and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), I’ve been heartened by the recent and sudden global awakening to the failure of the war on drugs. 

Several sitting Latin American presidents, members of the U.S. Congress and even televangelist Pat Robertson have all said recently that it’s time to seriously consider options like legalization.

So you can imagine that I was cautiously optimistic that alternatives to prohibition would at least be discussed at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting held in Vienna last week, which I and several other  LEAP members attended.

But it wasn’t in the cards.

Despite hearing supportive comments from delegates during one-on-one conversations in the halls of the UN building, not a single one of them spoke up during the official sessions to question the efficacy of global prohibition. 

Forgetting for a moment the bold anti-prohibition comments from the presidents of Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico and other countries in recent weeks, observing the official sessions of the CND meeting would lead you to believe that every Member State of the U.N. is completely in support of the current path of drug-prohibition policy. 

While totally avoiding of the central issue of drug policy – whether prohibiting drugs is a good idea – delegates spent several days engaging in bland and uninspired discussions of drug-war-cheerleading resolutions like one introduced by the U.S. to reaffirm the three U.N. prohibition drug treaties and commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Hague Opium Convention.  Delegates’ proposed amendments and the discussions regarding those amendments dealt almost exclusively with form rather than substance.

Disturbingly, the U.N. preaches and teaches the importance of a “single and unified voice” that operates to stifle thought, discussion and debate, making the process look more like a totalitarian process rather than a democratic one. A democratic process invites the expression of divergent opinions, beliefs and strategies, and does not dictate a “party line.”   

The core and threshold issue facing the delegates and the world is whether or not the world should continue the failed U.N. prohibition treaties and policies.  Woefully, that discussion is stymied and everything is discussed but the elephant in the room.  These anemic discussions clearly foreshadowed the conference conclusion that reaffirmed the status quo, despite the reports by the U.N. Secretariat reporting the deplorable world situation with regard to drug abuse and drug trafficking, and the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) executive director’s report detailing a myriad of expensive U.N.-run programs and anti-drug efforts made around the world.  Those latter efforts were to cost $1.036 billion for the biennium 2012-2013 budget period, or approximately $500 million per year.  And this accounts for just the programs run by the U.N. itself, excluding the multi-billion dollar expenditures that individual nations make on an annual basis waging the war on drugs.

In ramming through the status quo drug policies, the discussion of the CND and UNODC officials, delegates and even some NGOs, often repeat the same party-line expressions such as the phrase  “evidenced-based treatment,” “evidenced-based incarceration alternatives,” and “evidenced-based drug solutions” but the evidence overwhelmingly indicts current drug policies and cloaks it with immunity.

People will little note nor long remember what was said in Vienna last week, because the thought and content of the conversation avoided the heart of the world’s drug policy problem – prohibition, the cornerstone of the war on drugs.

Not only does the war on drugs not work for its intended purpose of saving people from themselves and drug use, but it also exacerbates most world crises. The world is fraught with too much violence, too much crime, too much addiction, too many overdose cases, too many prisons, too many bullet holes, too many AIDS cases, and too many bills related to prohibition. The war on drugs has proved to be public enemy number one, and yet comes and goes daily to Building M at the Vienna International Center, without the need for a delegate badge, and without question or scrutiny.