Last week in Vienna the United Nations hosted the 2014 Commission on Narcotic Drugs. This annual review of the world’s drug problem may not sound like the ‘must attend’ event of the year, but that is to underestimate its importance in drug policy politics.
Two years from now at a General Assembly Special Session On The World Drug Problem, the United Nations will carry out a review of global drug policy. There is no doubt that international legal framework that has kept drug use under control will be under threat. For there are powerful lobby groups like the Global Commission on Drug Policy supported by Richard Branson, the international financier George Soros, and the International Drug Policy Consortium all of whom want to dismantle the current legal framework.
They say the ‘war on drugs’ has been lost. The truth is that international drug policy has been a significant success story. The mutually and freely agreed international treaties and drug conventions have kept drug use low – far lower than it was globally at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. They have kept it a marginal, as opposed to a mainstream, activity.
The pro-drug lobbies also argue that drug policy should be treated as a health issue. But it is already. Criminal justice systems in the USA and Europe routinely divert drug users and addicts into treatment. Interventions from needle exchanges to methadone have been made freely available by individual nations’ state health systems since the 1980s. But, however successful in reducing immediate harm such interventions are, they come after the horse has bolted the stable door. On their own they do not prevent or control the drug use problem or its collateral damage.
The fact is that drug use (legal or illegal) is a risk factor for a wide range of negative outcomes including mental and other illnesses, school dropout and academic failure, road accidents, unemployment, low life-satisfaction and relationship difficulties. Drug use is intertwined with many social and health issues. It exacerbates all other problems.
It does not just affect the user; it has serious consequences for society as a whole and our demand for drugs in the West negatively affects all regions of the world.
Marihuana is particularly harmful to young people – typically started in adolescence it can adversely impact on the developing brain. It is a ‘gateway’ drug and the scientific evidence of its harms mounts daily.
The legalization and normalization of marijuana in the USA – where its use and its diversion to young people are rising – creates grave concerns for drug policy.
It is in face of the danger of dramatically increased drug use posed by the legalising lobbyists, that Drug Policy Futures, was launched last week. This new alliance represents over 35 organizations from 21 countries and five continents and includes the Drug Free America Foundation.
It is a critically important initiative. I am delighted that so many like-minded groups have come together to promote drug-free environments and to support the associated social norms of responsibility and restraint. I am looking forward to collaborating with Drug Policy Futures to support the international drug treaties and importantly the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Its purpose, ‘to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances’ is critical. We need to be quite clear that any attempt to legalise drugs contravenes this most fundamental of international commitments.