Nazlee Maghsoudi

PUT ASIDE IDEOLOGIES AND POLITICS, ALLOW SCIENCE TO SPEAK, BECAUSE IT IS ONLY US IN THIS ROOM THAT CAN CHANGE THE POSITION OF INTERNATIONAL DRUG POLICIES.

– Czech Republic 

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We continued to hear member states’ preliminary statements in the General Debate today at the 57th Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) High-Level Review. The Round-Table Discussion regarding Money-Laundering also took place. For a detailed account of the statements made at both of these events, please consult the International Drug Policy Consortium’s CND Blog at http://www.cndblog.org. In addition to the official events, Uruguay held a press conference today to discuss their creation of the first regulated market for cannabis (exhibited in the photo above taken from @encod). The following is a reflection on selected key comments made during the events today.

Uruguay does what is best for their country and doesn’t play politics

Uruguay’s press conference provided a thought-provoking and convincing rationale for their creation of the first regulated market for cannabis. They approached their defense by providing a critique of politics, during which they stated, “Politics means convince people. When policies don’t show favourable results, our first instinct is to insist on our policies. We need to change.”  Uruguay recognizes that it is the government’s responsibility to not fall into this trap of politics. This very thought process led Uruguay to change their drug policies by creating a regulated market for cannabis. In the words of Uruguay, “We know that prohibition is not the answer because the evidence is overwhelming. The evidence is clear, so why don’t we change?” However, they are also not unconditionally committed to their new approach, as they stated, “If this does not prove to be the right decision, we will change again.” Evidently, Uruguay is committed to evidence-based drug policies and refuses to play political games, particularly when the cost of ineffective drug strategies is so high.

Uruguay stated that their decision to create a regulated cannabis market was based on three fundamental objectives, namely to go one step further than decriminalization, to assure cannabis users legal access to cannabis, and to combat the black market of cannabis. Cannabis is not intended to be a regular commodity, and Uruguay is working to increase the awareness of risks associated with cannabis by members of their population.

Uruguay was careful to emphasize that they “don’t want to be a model for the solution for this type of problem. This is the best option for [their] country, [their] people, and [their] situation.” The use of a state monopoly for the cannabis market is a strategy that is most appropriate to Uruguay’s unique circumstances. There are still many state monopolies in Uruguay, and in many cases, such as with alcohol, Uruguay has used a state monopoly first in order to maintain control. Moreover, all drugs are decriminalized in Uruguay. Uruguay asserted that four decades without penalization for the consumption of drugs created the foundation for this step. Hence, the regulated cannabis market has been designed in such a way to fit the specific needs of Uruguay. Yet, there is a key lesson that we can all learn from Uruguay, namely that “It is more difficult to control an invisible market than a visible market.”

Czech Republic agrees that times have changed since signing the first convention

The Czech Republic’s preliminary statement implicitly supported the actions of Uruguay.  The Czech Republic stated, “Policies should not be based on beliefs of a drug-free world, but rather must reduce the maximum risk and harms. We must adopt alternative regimes that are appearing on different continents… instead of trying to force those countries to dismantle those experiments or just being silent about it. We should actually appreciate the courage that they were the first ones to take this risk.”

The Czech Republic also emphasized, like we did in our blog post yesterday, that times have changed by stating, “In 1961, when we all signed the convention, the evidence was not very clear. We have the experience now… the policies where people die or get seriously ill should not be driven because of ideologies or wishful thinking. The idea for a drug-free world… was built on false assumptions and is not achievable. We have the evidence that a balanced policy, based on the protection of public health, is far more effective, and is more cost-effective. That is why, although we respect every country’s own policies… unwillingness of any country to look at the evidence is a threat to their own citizens and globally.”

Canada omits important themes and debates from their statement

Canada’s preliminary statement in the General Debate did not include any mention of human rights, harm reduction, or the use of the death penalty in drug strategies. In these ways, Canada has lagged behind other member states, who have been much more progressive in their statements (and in their actions). Canada did, however, discuss the importance of identifying and disseminating information on New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), as well as working with civil society and all stakeholders in devising strategies going forward. CSSDP, along with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, will be meeting with the Canadian representatives next week.

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