Uruguay's President José Mujica is standing up to United Nations bureaucrats at the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) who are chastising Uruguay for advancing legislation that will allow the legal growth, sale, and purchase of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Mujica plans to defend his nation's marijuana law reform in a speech before the UN General Assembly in September. For a preview, read here excerpts from Mujica's Thursday radio address to Uruguayans after the marijuana reform law passed in Uruguay's lower house of congress.
In 2011, the INCB similarly chastised Bolivia for withdrawing from the 1961 United Nations Single Convention of Narcotic Drugs so Bolivia could rejoin the convention with a reservation protecting the traditional use of coca leaves in the nation. Later, Bolivian President Evo Morales defended before a UN anti-drug meeting in May 2012 his nation's choice to respect what he called "a millennia-old tradition in Bolivia."
The INCB describes its mandate as promoting governments' compliance with three international drug control conventions that collectively restrict activities related to about 250 substances. In Uruguay's case, the INCB may have little power beyond complaining to prevent the implementation of marijuana law changes. Yet, the UN agency and the international drug control conventions have helped make drug laws around the world more uniform and restrictive.
As noted in the Organization of American States 2013 report The Drug Problem and the Americas, proponents of the international war on drugs use the INCB-promoted conventions to counter proposed drug law reforms including legalization:
Reflecting their concerns over the impact of drug-related violence and the continuous flow of drugs in the region, hemispheric leaders, former Heads of State, academics, and representatives of civil society have supported the adoption of policies geared to downplaying the role of the criminal justice system in drug control. Reports by high-level groups, such as the Global Commission on Drug Policy, emphasize the need to reduce the harms done to the health, security, and well-being of individuals and society, and favor an approach in which drug use is treated as a public health issue and consumption reduced through evidence-based prevention campaigns. Among other recommendations, they also encourage experimenting with legal regulation models for certain drugs.
At the same time, other voices suggest it is premature to assume that current approaches to the subject have failed. While acknowledging shortcomings in the implementation of current approaches, they maintain that, at the domestic level, countries are only now beginning to execute policies that are consistent with the “Hemispheric Drug Strategy” and its “Plan of Action 2011-2015,” adopted in 2011 by the member states of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States. This Strategy calls for an integrated and balanced approach to the formulation of drug policies: one that emphasizes supply and demand reduction, paying particular heed to control measures and international cooperation in line with United Nations Conventions on the subject.
The OAS report proceeds to comment rather evenhandedly on potential results of drug legalization, noting possible advantages including the following:
- substantially reducing the criminal justice costs of prohibition,
- reducing the drug related crime costs that are generated primarily by the illegality of drugs and the enforcement of prohibition,
- reducing overdose deaths that are primarily caused by prohibition creating "uncertainty about the purity of what is being purchased" and encouraging "the use of adulterants that can themselves have dangerous effects,"
- reducing criminal violence, and
- reducing "corruption of the criminal justice system and of political authority more generally."
The OAS report, drug policy developments throughout Latin America, and the progression of states in the United States going their own ways on marijuana policy show strong momentum in the Western Hemisphere for ending the unified international drug war envisioned in the UN's international drug control conventions. The UN may be on the losing side in its battle against Mujica and other drug law reformers.
Flickr image: U.S. Embassy Montevideo