Cannabis Regulation Deliberated as U.N. Develops New International Drug Strategy

Cannabis Regulation Deliberated as U.N. Develops New International
Drug Strategy


CONTACT: Jag Davies — 786-393-8100,
or Lady Amanda Feilding —

VIENNA, Austria – The Beckley Foundation, a U.N.-accredited NGO,
joined with a diverse coalition of eminent scientists, other NGOs and
political leaders to propose a paradigm shift in cannabis policy as
the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs held a high-level meeting from
March 11-20 to review the past decade of international drug policy
and recommend strategies for future decades.

The Beckley Foundation’s Global Cannabis Commission, comprised of an
international team of leading public health policy experts, presented
the findings of their Report at several meetings in Vienna. The
Conclusions & Recommendations of the Report map out solutions to
break the current stalemate, including a new draft Framework
Convention on Cannabis Control. The Report provides a review of the
issues that must be considered by policymakers in developing
evidence-based cannabis policies that minimize the harms associated
with its use and control. Among its recommendations, the Commission
suggests allowing individual countries the leeway to implement
differing systems of regulation that best suit their individual
needs–even to the point of state production and licensed sale.

As documented in the Cannabis Commission’s Report, cannabis is the
mainstay of the global War on Drugs. The U.N. has estimated that
cannabis is used regularly by 166 million people–4% of the global
adult population, compared to 1% for all other illegal drugs
combined. In the U.S., where 42% of the adult population has used
cannabis, three-quarters of a million citizens are arrested every
year for simple possession. Additionally, in certain producer/transit
countries such as Mexico, where cannabis comprises half of the drug
trafficking market, prohibitionist policies have led to a grim and
growing war.

A decade ago the U.N. issued a declaration outlining its 10-year
global strategy to “eliminate or significantly reduce” all illicit
coca, cannabis, and opium plants from the earth under the motto, “A
drug free world  we can do it!” Yet, the global experience of the
past 10 years has demonstrated that current drug policies have
exacerbated–not abated–violence and health epidemics, while also
causing massive civil and human rights violations. Under current
international norms, anyone who possesses an illegal drug such as
cannabis is treated as a serious criminal–subject to the possibility
of arrest, property seizure, imprisonment, denial of access to public
benefits, such as financial aid for college or welfare, potential
loss of child custody and the ability to get a job. Still, despite
these harsh punishments and a spectacular increase in government drug
control expenditures, drug production and consumption have risen
while drug violence and health epidemics have worsened.

Increasingly, however, members of the international community are
acknowledging the failure of U.S.-style drug prohibition as a model
for global drug policy and have turned toward health-based approaches
more in line with the U.N.’s health and human rights mandates. In the
U.S., alternatives to cannabis prohibition are increasingly becoming
politically viable–three-quarters of citizens think that the drug
war is a failure, thirteen states have passed laws to protect
patients who use medical marijuana, several states have introduced
legislation to follow Massachusetts’ lead by decriminalizing
marijuana, and public support for marijuana legalization is polling
higher than ever.

Although signatories of the international drug control treaties are
formally required to criminalize the production, distribution, sale,
use and possession of cannabis, a number of countries have de facto
adopted less punitive policies. As documented in the Report, reforms
reducing or removing criminal sanctions for the use and possession of
cannabis have been shown not to lead to an increase in the prevalence
of use or harms. Enforcement of such regimes is also vastly more
cost-effective, enabling society to address other pressing issues
more effectively.

“The Report of the Global Cannabis Commission convened by the Beckley
Foundation is a valuable contribution to our thinking on the thorny
subject of illicit drugs … The failure of the ‘War on Drugs’
strategy is quite evident around the world, but the alternatives are
not easy to grasp. We need to change our way of thinking and acting
on this matter. New policies must be based on empirical data, not on
ideological assumptions and dogmas,” said former President of Brazil
Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who has endorsed the Report. Influenced by
the Beckley Foundation Report, last month, Cardoso, along with the
former Presidents of Mexico and Colombia and 17 delegates from nine
Latin American nations, called for a “paradigm shift” in
international drug policy that includes the decriminalization of cannabis.

Although delegates from several countries, in addition to the press
(such as the cover story of last week’s Economist), agree with the
approach of the Beckley Foundation’s Report, the Political
Declaration adopted by U.N. member states earlier this week failed to
even mention cannabis. In addition, to the dissatisfaction of many
countries, the Declaration adopted in Vienna earlier this week
omitted any emphasis on “harm reduction” approaches to the control
and regulation of drugs.

The Global Cannabis Commission Report will be co-published with
Oxford University Press in Spring, 2009. The text of the Report and
new draft Framework Convention on Cannabis Control, as well as
additional background information, are available at:


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