Monthly Archives: March 2014

Reform is not on the horizon, it has already arrived.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) convenes once a year in March in Vienna at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In the recent past, the most exciting event was when Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, would show up and discuss the many uses of the coca leaf. However, this year was different with a heated debate occurring on the use of the death penalty for drug trafficking (condemning the death penalty didn’t happen, but the coalition continues to grow), a clear  fracture between member states and preparations for the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on drugs (UNGASS).


Much of the discussion focused on minutiae such as controlling food poppy seeds and using the Olympics as a means to live a drug-free life, but within these distractions, there were hints that change is both on the horizon and already occurring. Uruguay was clearly the strongest reform voice, defending their newly passed law to regulate and control the production, distribution, sale and consumption of cannabis. But there were also surprises. Ecuador took a strong stance on the need for an open debate, a willingness to review the conventions and strong civil society presence at the upcoming UNGASS meeting.

Within the Mexican delegation, there was a clear division of interests: whether to join the progressive group of like-minded countries or to maintain a firm grip on the status quo. Based on hearing the country statements and their interventions on the UNGASS resolution, as well as meeting with several of the delegation members, it is clear that the fracture will not be quickly resolved. While there was agreement on treating the drugs issue as a health problem, there is still no consensus on the means by which that will occur, nor whether regulation is part of that agreement. Mexico affirmed that they were against legalization, yet spoke about the need for alternatives and new ways of addressing the problem, joining forces with other countries who are already moving towards models of regulation.

Since Mexico was one of three countries, along with Colombia and Guatemala to request the Special Session on drugs, there is a responsibility to bring something new to the table. If we are going to continue with the same strategy of militarization, prohibition and criminalization, there is no need to broaden the debate. Perhaps the changes will not be global–because with friends like Russia, China and Pakistan, who needs enemies–but rather we will see regional shifts that provide for a stronger platform from which to advocate alternatives.

The Organization of American States (OAS) has already begun to lead this process, Last year they released the Scenarios Report, which explored possible routes to decreasing violence levels in the region, including a possible regulatory model. At the CND this year, the OAS, along with Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Uruguay, hosted a side event on the report and ways that member states have used it to begin a national discussion on drug policy.

Uruguay, along with many civil society organizations focused on the need to give precedence to human rights obligations over drug control strategies. That will be a key point of convergence as member states begin designing their strategy for 2016. Human rights violations can no longer be justified under the umbrella of the war on drugs. The discussion regarding reforming or reviewing the drug conventions becomes less relevant when we prioritize human rights.

At the end of the day, it is clear that drug policy reform will happen on a national (Uruguay) or local (Colorado, Washington State) level, however there are many countries that are unwilling to act alone. Regional and international discussions allow us to take a break from the status quo and see the perspectives of others. We can begin to learn from each other. And often, the conversations that happen on the other side of the world begin to plant a seed of change in our own drug policies.

Overcoming Violence in the Middle East: Wassam from Iraq

I spent the last 10 days in the West Bank and in Amman, Jordan as part of a solidarity visit.  I had been to Israel, Ihad visited the Middle East before, but what made this different was that I had the opportunity to hear directly from young people throughout the region. And because of this direct contact, my perspective has been completely changed.  This is in no way to say that I am even close to understanding the complexities of the issue, but at the very least, my view is broadening.

Wassam, from Iraq, spoke about how the invasion by the United States had only brought destruction and violence to his country. From his point of view, as a young Christian Iraqi dentist, living under the regime of Saddam Hussein was preferable to the current situation. He spoke about the bombing of buildings and the fractured state of his country. And there was no doubt that without the US intervention, this would not have happened. Although life might not have been great under the Hussein government, he felt safer. At the very least, he knew what to expect and the Christian population was more protected. Now there is only chaos and confusion. He doesn’t know who will be in power and how they will react to this religious minority. He worries about persecution by extremists. But most of all, he wants his country back. He wants to feel proud of who they are, he wants to have the buildings be beautiful again.

Wassam is on the far right.

Wassam is on the far right.

Because my perspective is almost completely shaped by the New York Times and other western media, I was surprised to hear from so many people that they would prefer regimes that we have been told are “evil.” I consider myself a critical thinker, but when you are a religious minority, the authoritarian regime might be better because they protect you. It is the unknown that is most frightening.