05/17/15 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

Part two of our coverage of a recent meeting of the UN General Assembly to prepare for its special session on drugs in 2016 (UNGASS2016), featuring audio from Mr. Alvaro Jos?Ôö¼┬½ de Mendon?Ôö¼Ôòæa e Moura, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the United Nations, and Mr. Milton Romani, National Drug Board Secretary, Uruguay.

Audio file


MAY 17, 2015


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

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported by the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you. Now, on with the show.

Recently, the United Nations General Assembly held a day-long set of meetings to discuss global drug policy. The event was in preparation for the General Assembly's Special Session on Drugs that will be held in April of 2016. This week is part two of our coverage of that event.

The existing global law-enforcement-focused prohibition model, which is promoted – arguably mandated – by the Single Convention and the other international drug control treaties has created international crises in public safety and public health.

Drug policy reformers, public health advocates, human rights groups, and other NGOs and representatives of civil society have been at work for more than a decade to convince the UN and its various subsidiary bodies to expand the discussion over global drug policy beyond the narrow confines of the current treaty structure. Process has been slow, yet progress has been made. More and more nations have come to accept the need for serious change. Some countries have begun to defy the international drug control apparatus and are implementing harm reduction, decriminalization, and even legalization/regulation programs.

Well I'm still recovering from a flu, which is why my voice sounds like it does, so without further ado and before I start coughing again, let's get to some audio. First up, here's Alvaro José de Mendonça e Moura, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the United Nations, speaking at that meeting of the UN General Assembly. Portugal as loyal listeners know fully decriminalized all drugs several years ago, instituting instead a policy of treatment for those with drug use disorders. They've had a great deal of success in Portugal. Unfortunately the European economic meltdown that was caused by greed in the international banking system had a severe impact on programs for social reintegration and support, not only in Portugal but around the world. Fortunately, the Portuguese system still survives. Now let's hear what Portugal's representative had to say to the world:

ALVARO JOSE DE MENDONCA E MOURA: It's for me a special pleasure to be here today, having shared the preparatory process of the previous UNGASS in 1998. I'm fully aware that you don't believe I was already born in '98, but it was true, I was already born by then, and so it's really a great pleasure to be here. And I can only say that it's more than needed to really take advantage of the next UNGASS to take stock of what we have achieved during these 18 years, and mainly what we have not achieved during this period of time.

A special word of thanks for the panelists, and a very, very warm welcome to Ms. Dreifuss, who, as then-Swiss President, made a very impressive statement at the UNGASS in '98, a speech that I would recommend to all of you to read again because it's still a very actual, very present in the, in today's world, that intervention of Mrs. Ruth Dreifuss.

Let me take advantage of being here to make just a couple of comments, referring to what we, ourselves, have tried to do as follow-up to last UNGASS. What I can tell you is that we really introduced important innovations in our national policy, inspired by the discussions that we have held in the last UNGASS. We basically centered our drug policy on fundamental idea that drug addiction should not be an exception to the general principle that disease should be treated on a nondiscriminatory basis and not criminalized. Eliminating barriers raised by stigmatization, victimization, allowed us to implement more effectively a wide range of measures in the field of prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and social reintegration.

We tried to have it as a balanced and multidisciplinary approach, giving due consideration to supply and demand reduction, focusing on promotion of public health, as well as in law enforcement activities, but within a framework of decriminalization of personal consumption, considering the levels of consumption that medically and legally determine drug addictions and hence sickness. But we remain firmly convinced that drug use is harmful, but also that not all means to counter it are equally effective, proportionate or even legitimate.

Reducing drug use and its consequences by improving the extension and effectiveness of demand reduction interventions are the pragmaticals of our policy, and we tried to pay particular attention to young people and vulnerable groups. And the data and studies that we know confirm a positive evolution on most of the indicators relating to drug use, in particular the decrease of drug use of all illicit substances among our younger population. And we also have fewer cases in the penal system related to drug consumption, more requests for treatment, which is a very important element for us, and a clear decrease of the number of intravenous users, as well as diminution of drug-related infection diseases.

We do not really presume the existence of exclusive or direct link between these positive results and the decriminalization of drug use per se, we will not go to that, we cannot draw that conclusion. We can only say that decriminalization allowed the creation for us of the legal framework to implement policies to reduce the harms caused by drug use. But we should always remain alert and conscious of the new challenges posed by a dynamic drugs phenomenon. Unfortunately, the drugs phenomenon is a very dynamic one.

An open and frank dialogue with our international partners should provide the necessary tools to assess effectiveness of drug policies, and to adjust them to the ever-evolving reality of the drug phenomenon. A results-based approach in reducing drug use, and its adverse health consequences should be one of our main criteria. We fully recognize that one size does not fit all, but we firmly believe that the current legal UN framework and the existing international instruments is flexible enough if we want to use it to embrace a wide range of policy options.

In fact, I don't see anything preventing us from developing more humane policies, based on solid scientific evidence, and on the protection and respect for human rights. Likewise, new policies should be implemented in full respect of the international legal framework for addressing the world drug problem, including universal declaration of human rights and other international human rights instruments. And these are and must be the cornerstone of the global response to the world drug problem.

Let me reiterate, in this regard, our unequivocal opposition to the death penalty in all cases and under all circumstances, including for drug-related offenses. We recall in particular the absolute prohibition in international human rights law of the execution of persons for crimes committed before they were 18 years of age, and we call on states that still retain the death penalty to respect the international minimum standards.

I would like to seize this opportunity to underline and to welcome the importance of the engagement of civil society in development and implementation of drug policies. Civil society has been playing an active role in deliberations and implementation of our own national policy, and we are convinced it can provide a valuable contribution to our collective deliberations here at the UNGASS. Thank you for your attention.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Alvaro José de Mendonça e Moura, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the United Nations, speaking at the UN General Assembly as they prepare for the special session on drugs to be held in April 2016. I'm Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts, and you're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network.

Speaking of Drug War Facts, I would be remiss if I did not mention that at the DrugWarFacts.org website you can find plenty of information on drug use and drug policies not only in the United States but from around the world, including full sections on Switzerland, Portugal, Sweden, The Netherlands, and a number of other nations. Remember, knowledge is power, so get the facts, and visit DrugWarFacts.org today.

Well finally, let's hear from Milton Romani, he's the secretary of the National Drug Board of Uruguay. Uruguay of course legalized marijuana a couple of years ago, in direct defiance of the UN and international drug control conventions. They are a symbol for drug policy reformers around the world, so let's hear what they had to say to the world's official representatives:

MILTON ROMANI [TRANSLATED TO ENGLISH]: I reiterate what was said in Vienna by the head of delegation of Uruguay. We encourage a comprehensive and balanced focus on a drug policy in line with human rights, international human rights instruments, as under Resolution 51/12 of 2008, of the drug commission, and this was sponsored by Uruguay. We insisted on promoting a broad and fruitful debate on the current model in the region and the world of this so-called war against drugs. Today, we are critically rethinking this, and looking at this realistically, and coming up with a new strategy and plan of action. We need to be more effective, efficient, and humane.

We don't always have the courage to square tackle reality without complacency, single-minded, sometimes dogmatic, sometimes moralist, and pseudo-scientific thinking, little open to good practices. This runs the risk of new frustrations rising in UNGASS 2016. We must have the courage to admit that there is a variety of approaches, there are different views, new experiences, and a trend throughout the world, and we wonder, will we be able to respond to some questions, to recognize the reality based on practices, and using healthy debate, will we be able to ask ourselves harsh questions, or will we be repeating routine formulas?

We need to look at policies comprehensively, and wonder if they're truly effectively balanced, not looking at merely controlling supply and a repressive punishment. We must ask ourselves whether human rights are respected when minor offenses including use are penalized, including through the death penalty, or when obligatory internment is called for or forced labor for drug addicts. Will we continue to accept a unilateral flexible interpretation of conventions, which enables going even more towards repression? Because the death penalty is in fact this: a flexible interpretation.

The world just a few days ago saw the terrible execution of 8 human beings due to drug-related crimes. Now, apart from the violation of the right to life, and apart from the suffering caused to their families, is there any evidence that such a measure is effective? The lack of proportionality in applying criminal law only deepens violence. And this only leads to overcrowding of prisons with subjects, and this does not help the situation, it only exacerbates this.

We welcome the resolution of the 28th session of the Human Rights Council. This resolution states that the Human Rights Council on the contribution to the special session of the General Assembly on the Global Drug Problem of 2016, we welcome the report that will be presented there. This is a great step forward, and will contribute together with other agencies of the organization as a valuable input for positive and constructive dialogue.

Within the timeframe I've been given, I will speak about our strategy and plan of action, to be an input for this debate. First, we must recover the ultimate aim of conventions dealing with rights, guaranteeing the right to health, not only as the lack of illness, but as the full enjoyment of physical, mental, and social health, and promoting the well-being of humanity. We must have effective and special measures for access to controlled substances, ensuring the right to medical and scientific uses that are denied according to IDCB to more than 75 percent of humanity. We are before a structural phenomenon which could benefit from a group of experts made up of agencies with participation from civil society in order to provide information on various aspects and mechanisms.

Next, we need to place humans and society at the center of policies and international cooperation. As many have said, we also should abolish the death penalty for drug offenses and ensure due proportionality in implementing criminal law. Four, guarantee and strengthen the right to health assistance, treatment, to rehabilitation and social reinsertion relating to drugs. Five, incorporate practices in reducing harm and incorporating this without taboos. This is in line, fully in line with the conventions. Six, we need comprehensive action with the World Health Organization, in order to include reducing the harmful use of alcohol and regulating the tobacco market. The global strategy against the use of alcohol of the WHO and the framework convention on tobacco control are relevant here.

Seven, we should include a human development perspective and dimension. We have seen the report on development of policies for drug control presented by UNDP, and we believe that this is an input, and a way to look at drugs from a different perspective. Next, we must follow-up on market regulation models, accumulating data and scientific evidence in terms of safe spaces for reducing harm and spaces for health, as compared to the criminal legal system in place today that is harmful.

Madame chair, I'll take a few more minutes because Uruguay has taken a sovereign decision on the basis of constitutional precepts in our legal framework to make progress in regulating markets. In good faith, we are preserving the health of Uruguayans and tackling the illicit market for drug trafficking. We are protecting users from contact with this market, and preserving their security.

Parliament has a law 19172 regulating production, distribution, and sale of cannabis through a specific space, and a very determined space. Their regulatory decrees for the production of industrial cannabis, for medical purposes, this has just been promulgated, and we created an institute to control and regulate cannabis use, working with the ministry of public health, social development, and agriculture, and the national drug boards. We have a registry. This sets out, this oversees, guides, registries and controls the processes and conducts research. This looks at prevention, education, and drug treatment. The tracing of the origin of seeds has been made possible. Since 1974, Uruguay does not criminalize the holding of the drug for personal use.

There are three ways to acquire a reasonable dose for personal use of drugs, and to prevent contact with the illicit market. First, domestic farmers, cultivators are duly registered, up to 6 plants. There are also clubs with membership that allows giving permits to from 15 to 45 members. We have registered 2,344 cultivators to date, and we have 14 membership clubs. The other way which is currently being implemented is to provide in community pharmacies, to have them be able to sell to registered users and this is controlled through software with digital identification purposes, to be able to administer up to 40 grams monthly and 10 grams weekly.

The state is regulating this use, but outside of this market, criminal law prevails, and this model is in line with the cultural and legal background of Uruguay, based on market regulations through our constitution, as long as other persons are not harmed. We have a safeguard for the right to health, security, and the well-being of human beings. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Milton Romani, he's the secretary of Uruguay's National Drug Board, and he was addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations as they prepare for a special session on drugs which is to be held in April 2016. All translations have been provided through the United Nations.

And finally. As many of you know, I am from the state of Oregon. Oregon is currently trying to figure out how to implement its adult use marijuana legalization program, which was passed by voters back in November of 2014. The House-Senate Committee on Implementation of Measure 91 has been meeting since February, a number of information meetings followed by hearings on specific pieces of legislation. Almost the entire time they've been meeting, they've been discussing generically various elements of the marijuana industry, and specifically most of the time they have been talking about the medical marijuana program, and ways in which they can change it, ways in which they can align the medical and adult use programs.

The joint committee on implementation of measure 91 had a remit of working out how to get the adult use program up and running, what changes they wanted to make, and yet, most of the time that they have been working this session they have been examining and talking about changes to the medical marijuana program. Main difference is whether or not cities and counties will be allowed to impose more than just reasonable restrictions on time, place, and manner. There's an effort from some to allow cities and counties to simply directly ban by a vote of county commission or city council. That's really the only sticking point. People on both sides within the legislature are agreed on some kind of need to make changes to the medical marijuana program.

Measure 91 had several places within the language of the bill which said that there would be no changes as to the medical marijuana program as a result of the passage of this initiative. Of course, up in Washington state, we had just seen a legalization measure pass and we saw that immediately there were changes being made to the medical marijuana program within the legislature. Measure 91 provisions which said no changes would be made as a result of this initiative were put in there to allay people's concerns about this initiative making those changes. Will of the voters to the side, let's be blunt. It's not the measure that's making those changes in the medical program, it's the legislature. And that initiative never said that the legislature would not make changes.

The question is whether the changes are appropriate, and more to the point, the question is what on earth is the state legislature doing? The remit of that committee was to implement the adult use program, and yet they have almost entirely focused all of their work this session on changing the medical program. Oregon's legislature constitutionally must adjourn by July 11th. They have a target date of June 26th. As I record this, it's May 16th, for release on May 17th. That means that the legislature has barely a month and a half left to begin considering how to implement its adult use program. Obviously, the state legislature has not only failed in its mission, but that committee has consistently been failing in its mission, almost from the beginning. Keep listening to Century Of Lies, and we'll keep looking at what's actually going on.

And now one last thing: May 19th is Malcolm X's birthday. There will be events, demonstrations, around the country around the Black Lives Matter movement, and the movement for police reform, and against police brutality. One of those events will be in Salem, Oregon, on May 19th. I had a chance to speak briefly to one of the people who's active in organizing with that, Samantha Foster. Here's what she had to say.

SAMANTHA FOSTER: While this protest is in honor of Malcolm X, it's really in the spirit of Stokely Carmichael or Kwame Toure, who said that white people should say, tell me what you want me to do, and I'll see if I can do it. He said white people should not just want to quote "be where the action is", unquote. And he asked, will white people have the courage to go into white communities and start organizing them? So this event is actually through an ally group, called Showing Up For Racial Justice, S-U-R-J, and so it is for everybody but technically, it's a white ally group which is ideal for a place like Salem, Oregon.

DOUG MCVAY: So, Showing Up for Racial Justice the organization, do you have the website, the URL for that?

SAMANTHA FOSTER: It is ShowingUpForRacialJustice.NationBuilder.com.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Samantha Foster, I spoke with her by phone a few days ago. She's involved in organizing an event on May 19th in Salem, Oregon. Well, for now, that's all the time we have. This is Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Thank you for listening.

Century Of Lies is heard on 420Radio.org on Mondays at 11am and 11pm, and Saturdays at 4am, all times are pacific. We're heard on time4hemp.com on Wednesdays between 1 and 2pm pacific along with our sister program Cultural Baggage. And we're on The Detour Talk Network at TheDetour.us on Tuesdays at 8:30pm. To all our listeners and supporters: Thank you.

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Well, we'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

DEAN BECKER: For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker, 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 Policy Studies.