Leaked U.N. Document Highlights Drug War Dissent



An internal U.N. document leaked to The Guardian offers a rare glimpse of disagreement about drug policy among member states, several of which are advocating a less violent approach. The document, a draft of a policy statement scheduled to be released next spring, suggests a breakdown in the international consensus supporting the forcible suppression of politically disfavored pharmacological tastes:

Ecuador is pushing the UN to include a statement that recognises that the world needs to look beyond prohibition. Its submission claims there is "a need for more effective results in addressing the world drug problem" that will encourage "deliberations on different approaches that could be more efficient and effective."

Venezuela is pushing for the draft to include a new understanding of "the economic implications of the current dominating health and law enforcement approach in tackling the world drug problem", arguing that the current policy fails to recognise the "dynamics of the drug criminal market."…

Norway wants the draft to pose "questions related to decriminalisation and a critical assessment of the approach represented by the so-called war on drugs." Switzerland wants the draft to recognise the consequences of the current policy on public health issues. It wants it to include the observation that member states "note with concern that consumption prevalence has not been reduced significantly and that the consumption of new psychoactive substances has increased in most regions of the world." It also wants the draft to "express concern that according to UNAids, the UN programme on HIV/Aids, the global goal of reducing HIV infections among people who inject drugs by 50% by 2015 will not be reached, and that drug-related transmission is driving the expansion of the epidemic in many countries."

The EU is also pushing hard for the draft to emphasise the need for drug-dependence treatment and care options for offenders as an alternative to incarceration.

"Drug users should be entitled to access to treatment, essential medicines, care and related support services," the EU's submission suggests. "Programmes related to recovery and social reintegration should also be encouraged."

With the exception of Ecuador, this is pretty mild stuff, especially at a time when former presidents of Latin American countries have publicly called for an end to the war on drugs and two U.S. states, along with Uruguay, have taken a big step in that direction by legalizing marijuana. But in the context of U.N. policy statements, which are usually organized around mindless mantras like "A Drug-Free World by 2000," these deviations from prohibitionist orthodoxy seem almost radical.

"The idea that there is a global consensus on drugs policy is fake," Damon Barrett, deputy director of Harm Reduction International, tells The Guardian. "The differences have been there for a long time, but you rarely get to see them. It all gets whittled down to the lowest common denominator, when all you see is agreement. But it's interesting to see now what they are arguing about."