“Sol Prendido” for Borderland Beat

The divisions over international drug policy were evident this Thursday with the demands of almost 60 States, mostly from America and Europe, to abandon the current repressive approach in the international anti-drug strategy.

This request occurred at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, the highest international body on drug policies, which this Thursday and Friday is reviewing the strategy approved in 2019, when it marks half of its decade of application.

The president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, denounced in a video message that the current anti-drug strategy “has failed” and that the UN cannot be “deaf and blind” to the need for a new approach that privileges public health over criminalization. 

Criticism even came from the United Nations, with Volker Türk, High Commissioner for Human Rights, calling the punitive strategies used so far “ineffective and counterproductive.”

Criminalization policies, including the death penalty, “have not decreased drug use or deterred related violence,” Türk said.

Lives ruined

In fact, he charged, this strategy resulted in “more and more lives ruined not only by drug use itself, but also by the counterproductive consequences of those policies, such as mass incarceration, stigmatized, impoverished communities and plagued by violence.”

In 2019, the countries of the Commission adopted a declaration that promoted “a society free of drug abuse” and committed to working to eliminate the cultivation, production, trafficking and consumption of narcotics by 2029.

Achieving these objectives is impossible, according to the UN’s own data, which highlights that the drug market, both traditional and synthetic, is at historic highs, with more users, more narcotics and more deaths related to their use.

At the beginning of this Thursday’s meeting, the States of the Commission adopted a continuing political declaration with the 2019 objectives, based on a minimum consensus due to the rejection of any reform by countries such as Russia, Iran or Arab nations.

According to diplomatic sources, there were even fears that Russia could block the declaration due to its mention of respect for the human rights of drug addicts.

The IDCP, a network of almost 200 human rights NGOs calling for reform of anti-drug policies, denounced that this statement does not recognize the failures of the current system, despite the “hundreds of thousands of people who die each year due to harmful policies.” 

Response to immobility

In response to this immobility, a group of 59 countries, including the main European powers, the United States, Canada, and numerous Latin American countries, such as Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, issued an alternative declaration in which they call for abandoning the repressive approach and addressing the problem as a public health issue.

“The international drug control system, as it is currently applied, needs a rethinking based on concrete evidence, so that we can begin to move forward together,” Colombian Foreign Minister Luis Gilberto Murillo said in the plenary session. when reading the joint statement.

“Prioritizing people in drug responses is part of our broader efforts: this means prioritizing public health, developing prevention initiatives, removing the stigma associated with drug use disorders,” the minister said. 

Given the lack of consensus to undertake global reforms, more and more States are deciding to try solutions that violate international standards, such as the legalization of cannabis consumption.

This path, which Uruguay began last decade and which is also applied by two dozen states in the United States and Canada, and which has recently been approved by Germany, is the most evident example of a broken international consensus.

These divergences occur at a time of an unprecedented rise in synthetic drugs, such as fentanyl, which has caused hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths in the United States since 2019.

The executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ghada Waly, called for unity to address an increasingly “complex” crisis, and recognized that synthetic substances already dominate the markets.

Waly highlighted that it is the demand that motivates the entire illegal drug business and the associated violence, which has a “devastating” result.

“There are not enough police or law enforcement that is going to end the illicit drug market while there is this enormous demand,” she summarized.