03/19/17 Doug McVay

This week begins our coverage of the Sixtieth Annual Session of the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria. In part one of our coverage, we hear from delegates representing New Zealand, Uruguay, and the European Union.

Century of Lies
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts
Download: Audio icon col031917.mp3



MARCH 19, 2017


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The sixtieth annual session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs began on March 13th in Vienna, Austria. The CND is the United Nations body in charge of overseeing and implementing the international narcotics conventions. Let's hear from the New Zealand delegation. The next voice you hear will be that of The Honorable Peter Dunne, he is New Zealand's Minister of Internal Affairs, he's also an associate minister for Conservation and an associate minister for Health.

THE HONORABLE PETER DUNNE: Thank you very much for the opportunity to deliver a statement at this sixtieth meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. I am delighted to return to Vienna and to express New Zealand's work for the support of the CND and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

I had the privilege of attending the UNGASS meeting in New York last year, where the outcome document was discussed. I have been particularly pleased with developments in recent years to see the shift away from treating drug issues as primarily a law and order responsibility to a health focus.

However, I still believe we need to be bolder. I have previously talked about compassion, innovation, and proportion, as three fundamental pillars of drug policy, which New Zealand has integrated into its national drug policy. We do not have the perfect set of interventions or approaches in place, but our national drug policy provides a framework for testing and improving over time to meet the aspirations that we have set out.

That drug policy also aligns well with the outcome document, because we view drug issues as first and foremost being health issues. And viewing drug policy primarily as a health issue has profound implications. It means establishing and ensuring access to essential medicines, including controlled drugs, while minimizing the risk of diversion and misuse.

Now this challenge plays out differently in different countries. For New Zealand there are growing calls to make cannabis-based products more available for medicinal use on compassionate grounds, despite the fact that the evidence of effectiveness is not yet convincing or substantial. So to strike a balance, we have established a pathway in New Zealand where patients can access cannabis-based products for therapeutic purposes based on efficacy data and clinical judgment. Although there are problems with accessibility of these products due to strict import and export controls, we are working to ensure that well-manufactured cannabis-based products may be able to be imported.

Viewing drug policy as a health issue also means ensuring access to quality addiction and harm reduction services. I see opioid substitution therapy and clean needles for people who inject drugs as essential elements of a harm reduction approach. New Zealand has proudly operated its opioid substitution therapy program for more than 40 years now, and our needle exchange for nearly 40 years. The New Zealand needle exchange program was the first national needle exchange program in the world.

But of course, health is more than just the absence or treatment of ill health. Promoting and protecting health, and promoting and protecting well being, are parts of our national drug policy's overall arch -- overarching overall goal of minimizing drug related harm. This is important because it recognizes the wider social and environmental contexts for minimizing drug related harm, for building resilience, and responding to the reasons why people use drugs.

It requires a people centered approach, where a range of government agencies: health police correctional services, social services including housing, and others, all work together to respond to individual, family, and community needs.

Another key focus is getting our legal balance right. In our national drug policy, the New Zealand government has made commitments to review certain aspects of our legal framework for controlling and regulating drugs, to identify opportunities for health based responses.

These reviews will cover our expert advisory committee responsible for making drug classification assessments, our framework for personal possession and other low level offenses, and access to controlled drugs for therapeutic purposes.

Last year we sought the views of the New Zealand public on the appropriate regulation of drug utensils. Our view was that the current prohibition on possessing drug utensils was inconsistent with a harm minimization approach. There was unanimous support for change. Submitters told us that harm reduction should be the top priority. They described the current arrangements as ineffective with the penalties out of proportion for those -- for drug possession.

They also pointed out that adding barriers to accessing drug utensils effectively increases rather than minimizes harm. The views raised by submitters will be taken into account in the legislative review process, scheduled to take place over the course of this year and the next year.

In the coming months, we will also be looking at the actions in our national drug policy to continue to ensure that we have the balance right. Although the principles based framework is set for five years, the policy is a living document with the flexibility to accommodate change, so we will refresh actions by the end of the year, taking into account emerging evidence about what works.

Innovation is essential when we are trying to prevent harms from ever changing drugs. Our home grown innovations include initiatives funded annually through the seizure of the proceeds of criminal activities. Last year, this funding from criminal proceeds supported a range of new initiatives, including a pilot of a whole school approach to reduce substance related harm.

I've chosen to mention to mention this pilot because of its bearing on our national drug policy objective of delaying the uptake of alcohol and other drugs by young people. We know that early intervention can have life long consequences for young people. We also know that sometimes changing how we approach drugs is the best way to reduce the harm that can come from their use.

So I will end as I started, by coming back to the three words that sum -- have the level of evidence to know just how well all our interventions are working. However, if we keep in mind those three key words, we will go a long way in integrating health centered approaches to drug policy. Thank you very much.

DOUG MCVAY: That was The Honorable Peter Dunne speaking at the sixtieth annual session of the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Dunne is New Zealand's Minister of Internal Affairs, he's also an associate minister for Conservation and an associate minister for Health.

You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.Net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Next, let's hear from the nation of Uruguay. Their delegation was represented by Juan Andres Roballo, Prosecretary of the Presidency and President of the National Drug Board of Uruguay.

JUAN ANDRES ROBALLO [SIMULTANEOUS INTERPRETATION PROVIDED BY THE UNITED NATIONS]: Madame Chair, on behalf of the delegation of Uruguay, let me convey heartfelt greetings to you and members of the various delegations present, wishing every success to the debates that we are having here during this session.

To all of you, a special message of greeting from our president, Doctor Tabaré Vázquez, which -- who leads the implementation of our national antidrug strategy, based on a focus on health, human rights, and the safety and security of individuals.

We insist on the need to continue with a critical and realistic analysis of the impact of the repressive and prohibitionist policy conducted over the last 50 years, looking at new alternative, innovative approaches. The depletion of the old approach has led to year after year increasing consumption of drugs and violence linked to drug trafficking.

Problems associated with drug use are primarily issues of health and social inclusion. It is in these areas that we need to pay the most attention to what we do. We call for a system of integrated and balanced drug control, including poverty reduction, food security, promoting health at every stage of human life, promoting peaceful coexistence and social inclusion.

Uruguay endorses what was said in the joint commitment of countries who signed the UNGASS document in 2016, to respect, protect, and promote all human rights, fundamental liberties, and the inherent dignity of all individuals, and the rule of law, in formulating and applying policies in the drug sphere.

The individual and his and or her dignity are at the center of public policies in its double dimension: individual and community based. We believe its fundamental to include at the center of the debate implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, its 17 goals, and connected measures, form a roadmap that should guide us through a balanced and integrated antidrug policy, making it possible not only to address its specific manifestations but also and specifically its deeper causes.

In this regard, we point out the need to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women, since they were particularly affected by the lack of access to treatment for drug addicts, and particularly vulnerable as far as the implementation of the criminal justice system is concerned, as was already pointed out here recently by Doctor Sipp of INCB. The case he recounted is something that he found out while on a visit to Uruguay.

We look at the agenda coming out of the resolutions adopted by UNGASS, and the operational recommendations on each of its seven dimensions. We understand that it definitively includes a vision of the various human rights instruments, make it possible to gradually make progress toward desirable and necessary reforms.

UNGASS 2016 is a milestone. There's a before and there's an after in this area, and we must recognize this.

Madame Chair, once again we endorse the objectives and goals expressed in international drug conventions, which are instruments to protect the health and wellbeing of human beings, and must be interpreted and applied in a consistent way with the international human rights system, and we also defend the necessary degree of flexibility in the implementation of these revisions in accordance with the various national realities, respecting the sovereignty of each state.

It cannot be otherwise. We call for continuing and deepening open dialogue within the international community and in particular with the International Narcotics Control Board, which carried out a mission to our country toward the end of 2015.

The market regulation approach, which has been applied in Uruguay, does not mean, under any interpretation, promoting drug use or disregarding the health risks involved. This concept is rather an activity focusing not only on cannabis consumption but also alcohol and tobacco.

In summary, we apply a cohesive, coherent system based on regulation. This is proved by the fact that the public policy to regulate smoking has succeeded in spite of pressure and threats from the powerful tobacco industry, and as a result, we have seen a significant decrease in the incidence of this problem and its impact on public health.

Developing market regulation as a focus presupposes a firm and active role of the state in our country as guarantor of the entire process. Each aspect of implementation involves control and oversight measures, a public policy based on inter-institutional, strong, and specific measures that coordinate the work carried out by the ministers in charge of public health, domestic and foreign security, social development, among others, under our Law 19.172.

This same regulatory framework guarantees the availability of cannabis as a controlled substance for medical use as well as for scientific research and industrial production. This public policy furthermore is subject to strict evaluation, for which purpose the government set up a scientific advisory committee including representatives of academia, heads of various universities, and a consultation network of 190 national and international experts. This committee established, in an entirely independent fashion, the parameters for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of this policy and its regulatory framework.

We do not want to be a model in the sense that we do not impose our approach to our other countries, however there is also this evaluation will be with full transparency available to those who show an interest, and it will be a contribution toward the government's ability to take appropriate decisions, both to endorse the necessary parts of the model and to rectify it where necessary.

Madame Chair, as part of our joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem, the document we all subscribed to at UNGASS 2016, we will contribute to this debate, action, implementation, and evaluation of the work at its various levels.

We are certain that each of us and our efforts and strictly abiding by the universal declaration of human rights, within the framework of multilateralism and cooperation which we continually demand will lead us to broadening the horizons for health, well being, and peace for our nations. Thank you very much.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Juan Andres Roballo, representing the nation of Uruguay, speaking on March 13 to the sixtieth annual session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which met in Vienna, Austria.

You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.Net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Now let's hear from the official representative of the European Union, Maltese Ambassador Keith Azzopardi.

H.E. MR KEITH AZZOPARDI: The UN and its member states consider UNGASS 2016 as the greatest milestone in international drug policy development. UNGASS rightly brought public health and human rights to the core of international drug policies, placing drug policy in a wider socio-economic context. The UNGASS outcome document, with its seven thematic chapters, provides us with a true possibility to address in a comprehensive and balanced manner the immense challenge that remains in the global, national, and local responses to the world drug problem.

We contributed actively to the UNGASS process, and appreciate the inclusion of several of our proposals in the outcome document. We strongly welcome that the need to improve access to controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes, and that the different needs for men, women, and children, when addressing the drug problem, is an effective manner where highlighted.

We also welcome that the international community recognizes that a public health approach focusing on the rights and needs of drug users has undeniable benefits. By developing evidence based preventive programs, we can act at the earliest opportunity to prevent people from starting to use drugs, and from developing substance use disorders.

By developing new treatment programs, and increasing their coverage, we are capable of treating substance use disorders, and by providing risk and harm reduction interventions, we are able to prevent the spread of HIV, AIDS, and other blood borne infectious diseases among drug users and we also protect the general population.

We welcome the fact that the outcome document is forward looking, containing a series of concrete recommendations on steps the international community can take to address the challenge of new psychoactive substances.

We are highly supportive of the UNGASS recommendations for enhanced cooperation on drug supply reduction. The European Union and its member states have taken up the responsibility to counter the threats related to being an area of destination, production, and transit of drugs.

Upholding the rule of law and in an efficient criminal justice within the applicable law, and with respect for human rights, in today's reality is as important as ever. We are very satisfied that the UNGASS outcome document calls for the principle of proportionality in drug policies. The EU drug strategy foresees that alternatives to coercive sanctions for drug using offenders should be provided, and indeed all the EU member states offer treatment for drug use as part of at least one alternative to coercive sanctions.

An essential principle for the EU and its member states is the respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights, for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, solidarity, the rule of law, and the right to health.

The EU is opposed to the use of measures of any kind that are not respectful of the human being, and we are consistently calling for the universal abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances and without exception, including for drug related offenses, and will continue to do so in all UN fora.

We call upon states that still maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on executions as a first step towards the abolition of the death penalty.

Madame Chair, this anniversary session of the CND comes at a crucial juncture, and now we must continue to build on the UNGASS legacy and ensure the broad international implementation of recommendations that we all agreed upon a year ago.

The UNGASS outcome document, both its recommendations and its structure, is a pivotal reference document for any future discussion on international drug policy.

We need to make sure that we continue addressing the world drug problem in a balanced, integrated, and comprehensive manner. In line with the European Union commitment to this development, we intend to address all the area of our joint commitment to effectively addressing the world drug problem, including demand reduction, supply reduction, and international cooperation under Agenda Item Six.

The intersessional meetings of the CND have provided an excellent opportunity to view the current state of play with regard to the operational recommendations laid out by the UNGASS outcome document.

For years to come, the implementation of these commitments should be the key focus of the international community. Effective implementation requires common understanding based on best practices, guidelines, and methodologies, and finally the formulation of targets, and also tools to measure progress.

In order to best support the member states in this implementation and follow-up, we need to develop data collection tools that allow for an evidence based portrait of the complexity of the global drug phenomenon. In this regard, we should also bring our efforts in the implementation of the UNGASS outcome recommendations in line with the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that are related to the mandate of this commission.

The UNGASS outcome document helps us to move towards an integrated and balanced approach to the world drug problem, and encouraged the CND and the UNODC to further increase cooperation with all relevant UN entities.

The recently signed memorandum of understanding between the UNODC and the WHO is an important step in this regard, and the presence of Doctor Chan as the first director general of WHO at this session symbolizes the inseparable link between drugs and health.

We commend the example the UNODC and WHO are setting with these developments, and highly encourage similar initiatives with other relevant UN entities.

Finally, Madame Chair, when we look at the history of international drug policies, we value the significant role of the civil society in the development of the international drug control system since its beginning in the early 20th century. The EU and the member states underline the importance of inclusiveness in the work of this commission, and we believe that the contribution of the civil society to the elaboration and implementation of drug policies at the local, national, and international levels, should be recognized, fully acknowledged, and encouraged.

In this vein, also the experience of drug users, clients of drug related services, their organizations, and families, should be taken into account in our future discussions. Drug policies are a matter of national, regional, and international interest and debate, but at the core of it will always be individual human suffering.

Madame Chair, dear colleagues, at UNGASS, the countries in this room, we altogether created an integrated, well-balanced, and comprehensive framework for our joint commitments to address and counter the world drug problem. Now, it's time to make these commitments a reality. I thank you, Madame Chair.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Ambassador Keith Azzopardi, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Malta to the UN Agencies in Vienna.

For now, that's it. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century Of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programming is also available via podcast, the URLs to subcribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give it a like and share it with friends. Remember: knowledge is power. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.