U.N. Summit Opens on Global Drug Policy : Wrong Approach

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) opened its Summit on Global Drug Policy today at which they are expected to approve another decade of the War on Drugs. Human Rights Watch explains why the U.N. approach should be rejected.

On March 11-20, 2009, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) will meet, opening with a high-level segment that will set the international drug policy agenda for the next decade.

In many countries around the world, drug control efforts result in serious human rights abuses - torture and ill-treatment by police, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, and denial of essential medicines and basic health services. UN drug control agencies have paid little attention to whether international drug control efforts are consistent with human rights protections, or to the effect of drug control policies on fundamental human rights.

In our own country, the war on drugs has been a failure, emphasizing prison over treatment. [More...]

Those incarcerated are often the most marginalized - small time dealers, low level drug offenders, and overwhelmingly, people who use drugs.

In the United States, the "war on drugs" falls disproportionately on African Americans. Although whites commit more drug offenses, African American men are sent to prison at 12 times the rate of white men. HRW has documented racial disparities among drug offenders sent to prison and automatic exclusion from public housing of people with criminal records, including drug users.

Many prisons combine the failure to treat drug dependence with harsh disciplinary measures for drug use and possession. In New York, effective drug dependence treatment and harm reduction services are unavailable to many prisoners; and drug dependent prisoners face harsh punishment - including solitary confinement for years - that bars them from treatment as part of the disciplinary sanction.

We also have the wrong approach to pain medication:

Unnecessarily strict narcotic drug control laws, policies, and practices in many countries also severely restrict access to controlled medicines for therapeutic purposes, thus undermining the right to health and to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment for millions of people who need narcotic drugs to treat pain or drug dependence.

Human Rights Watch has documented how the international community's strong focus on cracking down on illicit drug use has led many countries to neglect their obligation to ensure that people can benefit from the crucial medicinal qualities of narcotic drugs.

Access to pain treatment is a human right.

We also have witnessed decades of racially disparate treatment caused by the war on drugs.

Check out Building Consensus (pdf), the new report by Human Rights Watch and the International Harm Reduction Association, showing the extent of support for human rights-based approaches to drug policy.

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    The HRW report.... (none / 0) (#1)
    by kdog on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 01:39:13 PM EST
    just makes you wanna scream...I don't wanna ever get used to seeing our once good name being lumped in with Russia, China, and Thailand amongst the worst of the worst.

    This, of course, has been proven to be (none / 0) (#2)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 02:20:17 PM EST
    false so many times.
    Those incarcerated are often the most marginalized - small time dealers, low level drug offenders, and overwhelmingly, people who use drugs.
    In fact:
    Inmates in state prison for marijuana offenses (1997)

    -Drug possession offenses 5.6% of all state inmates

    Firsttime drug offenders 3.6% of all state inmates

    Offenses involving marijuana 2.7% of all state inmates

    Prisoners held for marijuana only 1.6% of all state inmates

    Prisoners held for marijuana possession only 0.7% of all state inmates

    Firsttime offenders held only for marijuana possession (any amount) 0.3% of all state inmates

    FIGURE 2

    Marijuana offenders sentenced in federal court system (2001)

    Drug offenders sentenced in federal court 24,299

    *Drug offenders sentenced for marijuana 7,991

    *Marijuana offenders sentenced for trafficking 7,805 (97.7%)

    *Marijuana offenders sentenced for simple possession 186 (2.3%)

    *Marijuana offenders sentenced for simple possession who went to prison 63 (0.26%)

    The Federal Courts (none / 0) (#3)
    by MKS on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 03:05:08 PM EST
    are innundated with drug cases......Not too many big fish among them....

    I'm sure that is true. (none / 0) (#6)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 03:35:23 PM EST
    In 2001 the 24K+ sentenced in fed court for drug offenses comprised around 1/2 of the total sentenced in fed court for all crimes (58K).

    This is somewhat misleading, though, in that the feds incarcerate many, many fewer than the states - like 1/10 the number of state incarcerations.

    This is the untrue statement that keeps getting repeated:

    Those incarcerated are...overwhelmingly, people who use drugs.
    implying that most are in prison for using/possession only (unless they're weaseling-out by saying that the dealers, producers, traffickers, etc., who make up the bulk of incarcerations, are also users...).

    OTOH the arrests for marijuana (none / 0) (#5)
    by JSN on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 03:29:41 PM EST
    possession in 2007 numbered about 664,000 according to BJS data. Depending on where you live a marijuana possession arrest could result in some jail time. If you have the bad luck to live in a state where there is a low threshold for the amount of drugs needed for a trafficking charge the outcome can be very serious.

    The press use jail and prison as  synonyms so many people do not understand the difference between a prison and a jail.


    This discussion is useless w/o actual data. (none / 0) (#7)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 03:45:16 PM EST
    What % of total incarcerations were for MJ possession, only, in 2007? Both state and fed.

    In the data I quoted above, that would be less than 3% (or less than 1%, depending on how you want to read the data) for both state and fed.

    It would be interesting to see if those percentages changed dramatically by 2007.


    My point is that people think those (none / 0) (#12)
    by JSN on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 05:19:11 PM EST
    arrested for MJ possession are in prison (not true). Instead they were booked in a jail and released after initial appearance or on bond. In some communities they may be cited and released and not go to jail at all.

    Some repeat offenders may be sentenced to jail for up to 30 days again depending on where you live. This is most likely for someone with multiple disorders (mental illness & alcohol/drug dependence).

    It is a public health issue not a public safety issue. We have been able to move some of those will mental illness as one of their disorders from jail to community mental health treatment but if alcohol/drugs dependence is their problem they probably will stay in jail for 30 days.

    MJ use is part of the lifestyle of the jail returnees and if they have a drug dependence it most likely to be meth or cocaine. I think that MJ is so frequently mentioned at ER and prison admission is mostly because it is  a lifestyle choice and there is some other reason for the admission.


    Ah, thanks. Great point. (none / 0) (#13)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 05:34:52 PM EST
    Question (none / 0) (#8)
    by CST on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 03:54:38 PM EST
    These are %s of all state inmates.  Do we know the % of inmates for all drug related crimes?

    For example - if 10% of all inmates are in for drug related crimes, and 5.6% are for possesion, that would be the majority.

    Seems like there is some missing information here.

    Also, unrelated, even if you don't spend time in prison, you still have to check the box of "convicted of a crime" on job apps, etc...


    approx 20% of those drug inmates (ie, 5.6% of ALL inmates) were in for possession.
    Percent of sentenced prisoners under state jurisdiction, by gender and offense, 2004              
        Male  Female


    Total  100 %  100 %  
      Violent  53    34    
      Property  20    31    
      Drug  19 %  29 %  
      Public-order 7   5  
      Other/unspecified  .5   .9

    Actually, sorry, (none / 0) (#10)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 04:11:20 PM EST
    NOT 29% of all inmates were in for drugs, 19% of male and 29% of female inmates were in for drugs.

    Way too many (none / 0) (#11)
    by MKS on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 04:54:37 PM EST
    What a waste.....

    Thanks for the info (none / 0) (#14)
    by CST on Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 10:46:12 AM EST
    You are correct.

    Although I still think 1 person is too much for this "crime".

    And they still have to check that box even if they never did time.


    I certainly won't argue with you (none / 0) (#15)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 11:39:45 AM EST
    on either of those points.

    Human Rights Watch (none / 0) (#4)
    by MKS on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 03:14:37 PM EST
    smuggled information out of Guatemala in the 1980s about the ongoing genocide--when the Reagan and Bush administrations were backing the military dictatorships that were killing their own people.  The lie was that the violence was caused by "communist" guerillas.  The Catholic Church published a study in 1998, and the UN Truth Commission followed in 1999 with its own, showing that more than 90% of the civilian deaths were caused by the U.S. backed Guatemalan military.

    Human Rights Watch, however, told the truth while the atrocities were occuring....and before others acknowledged what was going on.

    And, Human Rights Watch has been particularly critical of Hugo Chavez's abuses....

    Human Rights Watch has established its credibility.