The first day of the 58th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) was full of excitement as civil society and member states flew in from around the globe to talk drug policy. As it’s the second time CSSDP has attended CND, it felt kind of like a drug policy reunion! As soon as we stepped foot into the UN, the first thing we saw was a huge beautiful photo installation by the Harm Reduction Coalition. As we headed over to the civil society briefing, we learned that this was the greatest ever civil society presence at the CND!
There were so many international NGOs present that we even got seats this year at the back of the plenary room. For NGOs who have been tiptoeing through the hallways for years, this was a huge win! While looking for our seats we ran across another drug policy super star, SSDP’s Executive Director Betty Aldworth. In honour of her first time at CND, I took her on an adventure to the secret glass boxes above the plenary room, where we eagerly folded brochures about our upcoming side event, “Protecting Youth from Drug Policy Reform,” while watching opening statements from member states.
While the majority of the opening statements were underwhelming, there were a few that peaked our interest. For example, the EU member states called for a public health approach to drug policy, an end to the death penalty, and an acknowledgement that harm reduction services save lives. Colombia called for new metrics of success for the drug control regime, such as reduction in overdose and other drug related harms. Colombia’s strongest point was that no matter what, human rights should take precedence over fighting the War on Drugs. Considering how many lives have been lost to the War on Drugs in both Colombia and Mexico, it makes sense that Latin America is leading the dialogue for global drug policy reform.
Colombia pointed out in their statement that the second you ban something, a chemist has a new drug created to replace whatever has been scheduled. This cat and mouse game has been happening with increasing intensity over the past 5 years, with over 348 new psychoactive substances (NPS) identified as of December 2013 alone. Many member states addressed NPS trends and their increasing availability online, yet there were few to offer up regulatory strategies for addressing this problem beyond prohibition. New Zealand was one of the only countries to do so, as they have legislated a regulatory framework for approving new drugs. Unfortunately, while there were voices calling for change, the International Narcotic Control Board’s statement called for member states to respect the existing drug conventions and asserted that there was no reason to change them. With UNGASS 2016 around the corner, this closed minded rhetoric is disheartening to say the least.
Canada also focused on the risks associated with new psychoactive substances, but was vague about addressing exactly how their government policies were reducing these risks. As many young people who use drugs know, mislabeling is common in NPS as they are marked “not for human consumption” to avoid crackdowns. While the root of NPS is evading drug control regimes, Canada cautioned against movements towards decriminalization and legalization. Just like last year, there was no mention of harm reduction, human rights, or abolishing the death penalty. Strangely enough, there was also no mention of civil society engagement. Today’s statement reinforces why Canada is no longer a leader in global drug policy, as the opinion editorial we wrote for the Globe and Mail with Canadian Drug Policy Coalition discussed. Read Canada’s statement for yourself, as reported by CSSDP Chair Nazlee Maghsoudi, to find out more about what Canada said and didn’t say. Notice that Canada also made no comment about ketamine, but we’ll tell you about that tomorrow!