03/04/20 Cornelis de Joncheere

Century of Lies
INCB President Cornelis de Joncheere

This week on Century of Lies: An effort is underway in Oregon to decriminalize simple possession of drugs, we hear audio from the launch event and interviews with harm reduction activists Haven Wheelock, Bobby Byrd, and Dr. Andy Seaman. Plus, the International Narcotics Control Board recently released its annual report so we'll hear INCB President Cornelis de Joncheere speaking about Afghanistan, human rights, the death penalty, and whether nations should consider whether the Conventions are fit for purpose.

Audio file



MARCH 4, 2020

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

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVay, Editor of www.drugwarfacts.org.

There is an effort starting up in Oregon to reduce the penalty classification for most simple possession offenses, this could keep thousands of people from going to jail and send an unmistakable message to policy makers around the country – but first…

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) released its annual Drug and Precursor Report on February 27th. We are going to hear parts of that news conference in Vienna. The next voice you hear will be that of INCB President, Cornelis de Joncheere.

MR. DE JONCHEERE: Last month the INCB met with the government of Afghanistan to explore how the United Nations agencies could provide further support to deal with the drug control challenges the country faces. We identified a number of areas like the need for support to further support agricultural and marketing opportunities for alternative life (UNINTELLIGIBLE) programs addressing the linkages between terrorism insurgency, corruption, and drug trafficking. Strengthening interdiction and investigation capacity of law enforcement to tackle drug related offenses, including the trafficking in chemical precursors used in illicit drug production and the need for greater regional collaboration and increasing treatment and rehabilitation services for those affected by drug use disorders including women and youth. INCB is very much aware of the extraordinary challenges on peace and sustainable development faced by the government and the people of Afghanistan. The Board will continue working with the authorities to promote the engagement of U.N. organizations and specialized agencies. The Board stresses that efforts to stabilize the country will not be sustainable without effectively addressing the illicit drugs economy. The INCB Annual Report of 2019 also emphasizes the obligation to reset human rights in the elaboration and implementation of drug control policy. Unfortunately human rights violations continue to take place in some countries purportedly in the name of drug control. The Board categorically states that no country is exempt from human rights norms when implementing the drug control treaties. Drug control policies that protect human rights, principals, and standards have proved to be the most effective and sustainable. The Board makes a number of recommendations in this report in relation to human rights and the drug control conventions; among these we stress that drug abuse and drug related activities cannot be lawfully addressed without ensuring the protection of human rights and compliance with the International Drug Control Conventions. In addressing drug related criminality, states must continue to apply the principal of proportionality as a guiding principal in the determination and applying of criminal sanctions. While the treaties leave the determination of sanctions applicable to drug related crime to the discretion of governments, INCB urges states that retain capital punishment for drug related offenses to consider its abolition.

The treaties require governments to give special attention to the possibility of applying alternative measures to conviction, punishment, and incarceration for drug related offenses inappropriate cases and of a minor nature. These include education, rehabilitation, social reintegration, as well as when the offender is affected by a drug disorder, treatment and aftercare.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Cornelis de Joncheere, President of the U.N.s International Narcotics Control Board. He was speaking at a news conference on February 27th at which the INCBs Annual Reports on Drugs and Precursor Chemicals were released.

You are listening to Century of Lies, I am your host, Doug McVay. If you follow any of the marijuana media outlets then you may have heard about de Joncheere’s speech, specifically about some comments he made regarding the conventions themselves and how they were created decades ago and how nations may need to revisit them. That is kind of what he said, but as with all things, context is key. We are going to hear that entire exchange now – not just the part that has been quoted widely. Was this as good a statement as click bait headlines have made it out to be? Judge for yourself. This exchange comes at the very end of an hour long news conference. The reporters introduce themselves, then de Joncheere responds afterward.

REPORTER1: Okay, Robert Lisman from (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I have a quick question or remark. I have been following international drug policy since many years. I was also following the UNGASS process of 2016 when a couple of disappointed countries were asking for a new UNGASS process and were looking for possible change of the conventions. What we saw wasn’t a change of the conventions, but explicitly allowance for a broad spectrum of interpretations. I can easily imagine that this doesn’t make the work of the Board any easier because it makes it more difficult to draw clear lines possibly, which is and which is not in accordance with the convention. How do you see this concern (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

MR. DE JONCHEERE: I will just take the last question over here and then the president will be able answer both at one time. Thank you.

REPORTER2: It is just organization because we come here as journalists to report on the press conference. Some states have their own opinion about the report and I was witness many years ago to a representative of one country who came to the press conference and he wanted to mention those states and the organizers stopped him. After he went out I advised him that he could prepare a paper or maybe he could call for a press conference himself – not to use this press conference for his statement. This is just for the next conferences to avoid but I see that today’s organizers are so kind to give the possibility to some countries to mention their states. Thank you very much.

MR. DE JONCHEERE: To respond to your question or concern, the world is not getting any easier and in that respect I can fully endorse your concern in that respect. Clearly I think what we are seeing is that there are a number of developments that are taking place with regard to cannabis but also with regard to synthetic drugs that we have called attention to as a board. Sometimes the lines are very clear, and sometimes the lines are not so clear and particularly I think the issue of synthetic drugs and the way that it is changing the nature of the drug problem is something that the state parties will need to address. Next week in the Commission on Narcotic Drugs as I already indicated, we have presented a series of options for better addressing the problem of precursors and pre-precursors because obviously we can all see that controlling another 20,000 chemical substances is really not going to solve this problem so I think we do have some very fundamental issues around the conventions that state parties will need to start looking at. Again, we have to recognize that the conventions were drawn up nearly 50 – 60 years ago, and next year we will have an anniversary in that respect and I think it is an appropriate time to look at whether those are still fit for purpose or whether we need new alternative instruments and alternative approaches to deal with these problems. From a state party point of view, negotiations are always complicated so I am not sure if countries are lining up to do that but I think we owe it to the people of the world to ensure that what we agree upon in an international setting is actually effective in dealing with the problem that I think we are all very concerned about, particularly in the way it is spreading and the way it is affecting the world both in terms of public health and illicit trafficking and all the implications that it has for states and the way that it functions. I think we share that concern. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: You are listening to Century of Lies, I am your host, Doug McVay. That was a portion of a news conference announcing the release of the Annual Report on Drugs and Precursor Chemicals published by the U.N.s International Narcotics Control Board.

Turning from the international to the domestic, there is an effort starting up in Oregon to reduce the penalty classification for most simple possession offenses. This would keep thousands of people from going to jail and more importantly, it would send a message that the public is tired of meaningless body counts. We are tired of wrongheaded, ineffective waste of valuable police resources. We are tired of losing friends, family, and loved ones in the name of some idiotic moral crusade that was lost before it was even started. Initiative Petition 44 launched officially on February 29th. I went to the launch event and brought back some sounds. This audio starts with one of the Chief Petitioners of IP44, longtime public health and harm reduction advocate, Haven Wheelock.

HAVEN WHEELOCK: All right, we are going to get this thing started. First and foremost the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) coming from inside of this room has my heart exploding and I am thankful to all of you for being here.

How many people in this room work in the recovery treatment center? Please keep your hands up. How many people have friends, family, and loved ones who have been touched by addiction? Don’t put your hands down. How many people are former law enforcement or are currently law enforcement that know we need to do something different? Please keep your hands up. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) now we need to do something different and create a better system. How many people have been affected by the war on drugs? Look around guys, it is all of us. It is a community issue. You can put your hands down now.

We know we can do something different and something better and that is why we are here today. This petition and this Initiative will save lives and it will change the system. It will create a safer, more just community. The goal is to use existing marijuana tax monies to fund services across the state that will move us in the direction of treating addiction as the health concern that it truly is and take it out of the hands of the criminal justice system.

I am Haven Wheelock, I am one of the Chief Petitioners on this Initiative and have been working with folks who use drugs now for nearly 20 years. First and foremost, I identify as someone who loves drug users. I love people who use drugs and people I love use drugs, too. That is part of who I am. I support this Initiative because over the last 20 years I have lost countless friends and countless clients to the disease of addiction. I have watched people I love cycle in and out of jail only to get out and be on an increased risk for overdose and further stigmatization in our community. I have spent thousands and thousands of hours on the phone calling around and trying to get people I work with help for a disease that right now there is no help for, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I know with all of my heart that we can do it different and better. This Initiative will really give us a chance to move forward and do this different. I am honored to be able to speak in to this microphone today for the people that I have lost. I am fighting for them because Becky, who was my dear friend and mentor and the first woman who told me I could do this work, died of an overdose this year. She was a warrior in southern Oregon who was fighting for the lives of the people in her community and she is gone. I do this for my friend Habit, who was so afraid to go to the doctor because he was afraid he would get arrested, died from a very treatable skin infection. I am up here thinking about Nancy who was a beautiful, brilliant, kind activist and a compassionate human being who died from addiction because we didn’t have the services or the framework and this will create something different. I am excited.

Those of you who know me know that I can get on my soap box and talk about this all day long, but I don’t want to because I am joined today with some really brilliant kind, loving humans. Where is Dr. Andy Seaman? Andy is a dear friend of mine who has worked with me on countless projects and we have been fighting to change the system for a very long time and he is quite the brilliant doctor of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) stuff.

DR. SEAMAN: Thank you. There is no one here and there is no one in this community that doesn’t know the work that Haven (UNINTELLIGIBLE). There is probably no one here who doesn’t know that we are in the middle of an overdose crisis. Between one and two Oregonians dies every day of an overdose and we are still treating addiction as a moral failing and if we just ramp up arrests and put more people in jail who use drugs we can make this work, instead of treating it like the medical illness that it is by providing lifesaving treatment.

I worked as an addiction medicine specialist as a healthcare for the homeless position as well as a jail doc, and what my experience has shown me without any question is that providing access to support for safer use, treatment, or recovery always would be more likely to support health (UNINTELLIGIBLE) than any mechanism that involves shaming and punishing people.

I think a lot of people in this room could speak to this better than, but I am going to walk you through my experience caring for people in this system under the current model. Imagine that you are a young woman who is living with an opioid addiction just trying to get through every day and avoid the constant cycle of sickness from withdrawal. When they decide they want to change their life or maybe shift things up; or just want to be well and are trying to break that endless cycle of sickness and trauma. When they go to seek treatment they run in to barrier after barrier just trying to find access to a better way to use more safely so that they don’t die, or find access to abstinence, recovery, remissions or medications to help them not get sick every day. They then find themselves back in the churn, so to speak. Maybe they get picked up for some small thing and now they are incarcerated which leads to withdrawal. I used to have to do this with people over and over again. People on methadone or heroin who are going through opioid withdrawal in jail which is further traumatizing. After that they are sent in to the streets, sometimes in the middle of the night only to find that they don’t have housing anymore or they have lost the job that they were trying to hold down. If they make it through those first two weeks, because as Haven eluded to, those individuals face 120 times the risk of overdose as your community partnered (UNINTELLIGIBLE). So if you make it through those first two weeks, you now have a criminal record and lessens your chances of getting long term employment or long term housing – all of which help to find meaning in ones life – that helps give them the things they need for long term recovery, safer use, or whatever it is that they want that provides meaning to them if this cycle of trauma continues. Now what I have seen is that people start to internalize the messaging from our community that comes with criminalization and that they are not worthy of help, or that they are not going to make it – not everyone – but I have seen that too many times and I am just not going to participate in another conversation about stigma and drug use without simultaneously talking about decriminalization because that is what our laws are for, right? We are trying to tell people that what you are doing is wrong and that’s why we make things illegal; so then you can’t talk about stigma without getting rid of that. This measure provides hope for a different approach. We can disrupt this cycle at its roots by providing immediate access to treatment, safer use, or whatever it is that you are looking for to be safe today. We need to build people up rather than tear them down, there is a better way. Let’s get out there and make it happen.

HAVEN WHEELOCK: Hi, I am Haven Wheelock, I am a Chief Petitioner on IP44, which is an Initiative trying to move Substance Use Disorder out of the criminal justice system and put it in the hands of the health care profession.

DOUG MCVAY: Okay. Initiative Petition 44 is just starting out, you have a lot of signatures to go. This would be for the 2020 ballot?

HAVEN WHEELOCK: Yes. We are shooting to have it on the ballot for November of 2020, and we are very hopeful that we will make it to the ballot and get this past to change the way our state addresses substance use.

DOUG MCVAY: Specifically, what is going to happen? Is it something about possession charges? What’s the deal?

HAVEN WHEELOCK: Yes. What this Initiative is going to do is use existing marijuana tax revenue to fund drug treatment statewide. It is also going to move simple possession to the possession of small amounts of drugs. Currently it is a misdemeanor and this Initiative will move it to a violation that can be waived if you show up for a drug assessment.

DOUG MCVAY: What happens to people who have a misdemeanor arrest? Why is this important?

HAVEN WHEELOCK: It is important for a couple of major reasons. One, when you are arrested for substance use you are actually more likely to die in the first two weeks after you are released so not having people cycle in and out of jail where they are at increased risk of death is really important. Also, any criminalization causes stigmatization and we talk a lot about how stigmatized drug use and drug addiction is and if we are really trying to address that stigma, we need to stop criminalizing people across the board for symptoms of their disease.

DOUG MCVAY: The other side of this is there is a lot of marijuana tax revenue coming in and this would just move some of that tax revenue in to treatment?

HAVEN WHEELOCK: Yes. The idea is to take unallocated monies so that money that has already been allocated stays where it is at but any revenue about that would be moved in to substance use treatment across the state. When I say treatment, I am talking full-spectrum treatment so everything from harm reduction services like syringe exchange and overdose prevention, long term recovery support, housing, and legal clinics that are all very flexible so that jurisdictions can choose how to best support their community and what their biggest needs are.

DOUG MCVAY: How can people find out more and support this?

HAVEN WHEELOCK: If you want to get involved, please check out our website: www.yesonip44.org, where you can sign up to volunteer, you can sign up to host events, you can share your addiction story because it is so prevalent in our community. Sign on to the website and get involved as best you can – and don’t forget to vote!

DOUG MCVAY: I have been speaking with Haven Wheelock, she is a Portland area public health and harm reduction advocate and one of the Chief Petitioners for Initiative Petition 44.

MALE VOICE: My name is Bobby Byrd, I am currently working on the More Treatment Campaign.

DOUG MCVAY: Tell me about this Initiative?

BOBBY BYRD: The More Treatment Campaign is going to allow access to more funds for drug addiction and treatment services for people in the community like myself.

DOUG MCVAY: Why do you think this is a good idea?

BOBBY BYRD: Because having access to drug treatment is a great thing because sticking someone in jail for simple possession can ruin their lives – it ruined my life, and has haunted me for over 26 years. 26 years ago I was arrested for possession of a small amount of drugs and it has haunted and followed me for over two and a half decades. I have been clean since ’93, but the conviction literally kept me from renting apartments, homes, getting jobs, getting promoted at the jobs I did have, and I think the More Treatment Campaign is a great thing. I wish it had been around 26 years ago when I got caught up and got in trouble.

DOUG MCVAY: I realize as we are doing this that I have been an active drug user for the last 40 years; mostly marijuana, some alcohol, and a few other things that we don’t need to list right now. It has probably been the difference in the shade of our skin that has meant I didn’t end up getting swept up in this.

BOBBY BYRD: That is one of the things that I am really passionate about here because it is time for us to fix our broken system that targets black and brown people like myself and other as well, but disproportionately we are targeted and it is time to stop this and fix this, and this is the way to start. Hopefully this will help others so they won’t have to go through the things that I have gone through, and hopefully they will have a better future without a criminal record that would ruin their lives. Just because someone uses drugs doesn’t make them a criminal. I am just going to leave it at that.

DOUG MCVAY: Mr. Byrd, thank you. All the best of luck.


DOUG MCVAY: You just heard Haven Wheelock, Dr. Andy Seaman, and Bobby Byrd. They were at the launch of Initiative Petition 44, a measure that would reduce the penalty classifications for most simple possession offenses in Oregon as well as direct some marijuana tax revenue to substance use and treatment. More about that Initiative at www.yesonip44.org., and that is it for this week. I want to thank you for joining us.

You have been listening to Century of Lies, we are a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. You can find us on the web at: www.drugtruth.net. I have been your host, Doug McVay, Editor of www.drugwarfacts.org.

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook as well, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember, knowledge is power. We will be back in a week with 30 more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying 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 are archived at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy.