In 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available, drug-law enforcers seized over 60 tons of meth amphetamines worldwide, and globally, synthetic stimulants represented the greatest increase in the use of prohibited drugs.
According to UN reports, cannabis remained the most widely used prohibited substance with between 199 million and 224 million persons age 15-64 using it at least once in the previous year. Amphetamine-type stimulants were the second most widely used prohibited substance with between 14 and 52.5 million people using the drug at least once in 2010. In that year, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) estimated that between 153 million to 300 million people ages 15-64 used a prohibited substance at least once in the previous year.
These stats and others – often reporting increased production, use and trafficking of cannabis, heroin, cocaine and new synthetic illegal drugs (49 new ones in 2011 in European Member States alone) – depressingly dominated the reports of the Secretariat of the Governing Bodies of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) and the CND. The Secretariat reports were directed to the CND for use during its annual weeklong March session held at Commission headquarters in Vienna, Austria. The reports, reading much like an annual rainfall maps, reflected increases and decreases in drug use and seizures, by region, and by drug.
As a former Cook County drug prosecutor generally opposed to drug use, I travelled to Vienna to attend the 56thSession of the CND on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an international, nonprofit educational organization comprised of former drug cops, judges, and other law-enforcement officers who all formerly waged the war on drugs but who now universally oppose it.
Last year, I attended the 55th Session and learned first-hand that the United Nations is the fountainhead of drug prohibition for the world. By the terms of three international conventions (treaties) of 1961, 1971 and 1988, long and growing lists of drugs are criminalized.
As an example of the broad and sweeping prohibition flavor of the treaties, the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs provides in Article 36 that “…each Party [country] shall adopt such measures as ensure the cultivation, production, manufacture, extraction, preparation, possession, offering, offering for sale, distribution, purchase, sale, delivery on any terms whatsoever, brokerage, dispatch, dispatch in transit, transport, importation and exportation of drugs contrary to the provisions of this Convention… shall be punishable offences when committed intentionally, and that serious offences shall be liable to adequate punishment particularly by imprisonment and other penalties of deprivation of liberty.”[Italics added]
These UN treaties deprive mankind of liberty and foster wholesale incarceration worldwide with some 10 million people behind bars, 25% of them in the USA, the so-called “Land of the Free.” Too many people are deprived of liberty for merely possessing or using an outlawed drug and others for cultivating, distributing or selling marijuana, two of the most obnoxious examples of drug-policy abuse.
LEAP recognizes what people the world over recognize after 52 years of treaty-dictated, drug-prohibition failure: zero-tolerance drug war does not work. According to the UN’s own documents, 300 million people consumed drugs in violation of UN treaties last year. Aware of the robust, UN-drug-policy failure, weeks before the 2013 CND session convened, LEAP sent a letter to world leaders of each Member State of the three, UN drug-prohibition Conventions. The letter called upon world leaders to authorize their representatives “to openly and freely discuss the most fundamental drug-policy questions” at the Vienna CND session.
LEAP posited five such questions for discussion:
· Does the UN policy of drug prohibition do more harm than good?
· Does drug-prohibition policy itself cause increased drug availability, potency, use, abuse, addiction, disease and death?
· Does drug prohibition also cause turf-war crime, violence, corruption, addict crime and injustice; does it erode freedom, liberty and human rights; and does it tear at the moral fabric of mankind worldwide?
· Has massive drug-war spending compromised the role of the responsible elements of society (police, military, intelligence agencies, government, business, academia, media and international organizations) and aligned those elements with the interests of irresponsible drug purveyors and drug cartels, both sides supporting the continuation of drug prohibition for economic gain?
· What drug policy should replace the UN/Al Capone-style drug-prohibition paradigm?
Unfortunately though not surprisingly, the CND took up none of these questions. (Encouragingly, Latin American leaders did at the June 2013 meeting of the OAS General Assembly in Guatemala did to a degree.) Instead, as Cindy S.J. Fazey, a former high-ranking CDN official noted of CDN proceeding ten years ago, meetings of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) are no forum for debate and change. “…UN conferences are like plays where all roles are carefully defined and the scripts written in advance. They are not places for debate but for statements of position, where any potential conflict has been headed off months before through a series of preliminary discussions and preparatory meetings.”
Fazey explained that “In the Commission…no votes are taken. Everything is settled by consensus. This is because in the original charter for the UN only those countries that are fully paid-up members can vote. Since the USA is behind with its dues, there is an informal agreement that nobody votes.” Although the USA paid a part of its debt to the UN in 1999 pursuant to the Helms-Biden legislation, the USA still owes the UN over $1.3 billion. Of this, $612 million is payable under Helms-Biden. The remaining $700 million result from various legislative and policy withholdings; at present, there are no plans to pay these amounts.
The Commission (CND) comprises 53 UN Member States and most of the funding for the Commission comes from 17 major donors who for practical purposes, Fazey writes, have “decisive influence over both the CND and the UNDCP [United Nations Drug Control Program].” The Commission annually adopts resolutions regarding drug policy. “If any member of the Commission were against a particular resolution, it would not go through,” Fazey writes.
Analyzing why the Commission is unable to extricate itself from the status quo (deep drug prohibition ruts), Fazey commented on the nature of the delegates to the Commission. She said, “[The] preponderance of diplomats and law enforcement representatives militates against change and helps to perpetuate inertia within the Commission….. Any changes achieved have never occurred through debates on the floor of the Commission.”
Finally, Fazey observed that “The majority of UN Member States have long opposed any change of the Conventions…. [T]he three most vociferous opponents of change and slackening of the interpretation of the Conventions are the USA, Sweden and Japan. Other countries that support this approach fall roughly into two categories: previous USSR states and dictatorships.”
A more optimistic view of UN drug work is offered by the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Yury Fedotov, the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation for International Organizations.
At the outset of the CND March session, Fedotov said: "UNODC is building a coherent response to drugs, crime and terrorism, which views them as global phenomena needing global solutions. To achieve this we are introducing integrated programmes that deliver effective assistance. As we continue with this strategy we will use our core strengths in analysis, technical assistance and helping to build capacities to support the Member States who confront these challenges."
Sounds good, but LEAP and other drug policy reformers disagree. The global, top-down, one-size-fits-all UN drug-prohibition policy is a drug cartel’s prayer and a street gang’s dream. UN drug policy, like that championed by the US, is an utter and irredeemable failure and inimical to the health, safety and welfare of the world’s children and adults, too.
While in Vienna LEAP members met with drug czars and delegates and pushed the need for Member States to follow Bolivia’s lead (Bolivia quitting the 1961 Single Convention over the criminalization of the coca leaf) and call for the UN drug treaties to be amended with two basic changes. First, each nation of the world should reclaim its national sovereignty and retake control of its own drug laws and regulations. This would enable drug policy to be tailored to fit the unique problems and circumstances of each nation. Policies and programs that succeeded could then be exported and shared with other nations. Second, the international drug-prohibition blanket must be replaced with a drug legalization and control model that reduces the harm of drugs, alleviates the inherent evils of prohibition like corruption, and importantly disengages the prohibition economic engine that puts more dangerous drugs, uncontrolled and unregulated, everywhere.
If the UN and its CND fail to amend its drug treaties to accomplish these two fundamental changes, then the Member States should withdraw from the UN treaties, reclaim national sovereignty and restore domestic peace, harmony and sanity regarding drug laws.
Now, returning home from Vienna, the representatives of the nations of the world each must contend with the realities of what drug prohibition means to them.
For me, returning home to catch up on a week of Chicago news underscores the need for world reform of drug prohibition. I read that a gang shooting has murdered a 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins during a diaper change, the story supplanting the horrible news of the mistaken gangland murder of 14-year-old Hadiya Pendleton days after the president Obama’s inauguration and Hadiya’s participation in it.
During the week, a columnist suggested that Chicago police should use drones to police street gangs, over 100,000 members strong and flush with prohibition drug riches. A South Side drug kingpin was sentenced to prison despite the “no-snitching” code of the streets and the fear of his “the killing crew.”
Before the annual spring outbreak of the worst of Chicago gang violence, the Cook County Jail is already overflowing with drug and gang defendants, the fact providing fun fodder for a cartoonist. A dog detects 30 pounds of opium at O’Hare Airport valued at $500,000. A Schaumburg chief of police resigns his post without accusation of misfeasance after three of his Schaumburg police officers were arrested and charged with ripping off drug dealers and selling their wares, and the executive director of Ceasefire, an anti-violence group of reformed gangbangers contracted to the City of Chicago to stop the violence, claimed that “We’re making progress,” although the shootings continue in the nation’s murder capital, appropriately the home of international celebrity Al Capone.
Drug-prohibition drugs, violence, corruption, disease, and death flourish around the globe like a Biblical plague but USA state, national and local leaders say nothing, do nothing and accomplish nothing. Like the UN and its CND, American leaders acquiesce as bad drug policy causees what it was designed to prevent. The cowardly inaction is a despicable complacency in time of crisis, a time when the answer is as easy and obvious as it was at the end of alcohol Prohibition.
James E. Gierach
LEAP Executive Board Member