Reposted with permission from CSSDP: https://cssdp.org/thoughts-from-vienna-commission-on-narcotic-drugs-2019/

Written by Alex Betsos.

In 2009, The United Nations adopted what is informally called “The 2009 Political Declaration”, or more formally, “the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem”. 2019 was the date that the UN agreed they would re-examine the declaration, evaluate its effects, its impacts, and member states success in achieving the goals that they had set out.

By most measures, the goals of supply and demand reduction have largely been a failure, and while member states at the UN have passed a new resolution, outlining further goals for the UN, and while this document has been created by consensus, it’s pretty clear to everyone on the ground that no such consensus exists between member states. Some member states continue to support punitive actions, whereas other support a more health-oriented approach. Even the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime – one of the body’s responsible for enforcing the treaties, has now called for decriminalization.

This lack of consensus has been felt on the ground all day. The opening ceremony of the High-Level Ministerial Segment highlighted all of the good work that has occurred in the last 10 years. With pictures and videos of families, smiling and happy, one could almost be forgiven for forgetting that in the Philippines extra-judicial killings have been supported by the government, or that cocaine production has increased in Latin America – despite US/UN backed efforts to eradicate coca – or even that Canada and the US are in the worst overdose crises of their histories.

In terms of successes in the document of the HLM all that exists is this:

We acknowledge that tangible progress has been achieved in the implementation of the commitments made over the past decade in addressing and countering the world drug problem, including with regard to an improved understanding of the problem, the development, elaboration and implementation of national strategies, the enhanced sharing of information, and the enhanced capacity of national competent authorities;

The tangible progress is in their ability to work together.

What is always strange about events like the HLM is that they are often about political goals that are often unrelated to drugs. In a surprising turn of events, a large number of member state delegates walked out of the room during the speech of the member from Venezuela. While the Venezuelan member continued to argue against US involvement in the region in relation to drugs, it was clear to everyone that events here, and even the constant referencing of Maduro, were more so about the events in Venezuela than they were about drugs.

In terms of Canadian issues, it has been clear that several member states have targeted their comments at Canada. With cannabis legalization in full swing, countries like Russia have argued that Canada should not be allowed to attend, and many countries have made comments that sound as if they imagine that Canada has descended into a Hobbesian anarchy since the legalization of cannabis. Canada has fired back,  with messages that have stayed relatively on point with the consensus of other member states that share similar values (known as “friendlies”); namely that they oppose the continued use of the death penalty for people who have committed non-violent drug offences (possibly also a nod to the ongoing situation with Huawei, and the Canadian citizen being threatened with the death penalty), and the use by some member states of extrajudicial killings (ie the Philippines). Canada’s main address to the UN will be tomorrow, and we will see if it includes anything further that is substantive.