Global Fund response to the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board Annual Report.
The last INCB annual report is critical of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico for moves to decriminalize the possession of drugs for personal consumption. The report expresses INCB concern that such moves may “send the wrong message”, and concern over “the growing movement to decriminalize the possession of controlled drugs”. It calls for this movement to be “resolutely countered” by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and the United States. We support the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) assertion that “the INCB lacks the mandate to raise such issues” or the expertise to challenge such decisions made by sovereign states.
The INCB is overstepping its mandate by condemning the intelligent and informed approach taken by Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, to the demand and use of narcotics and their placing of public health imperatives ahead of dogma driven ideology.
Such statements by INCB contradict UNSG Ban-Ki Moon appeal to “guard against legislation that blocks universal access by criminalizing the lifestyles of vulnerable groups..” (March 28, 2008,) the multiple calls to stop criminalization of drug users by UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe and by Global Fund Executive Director Michel Kazatchkine, and the fact that countries such as Portugal, the first European country to have abolished all criminal penalties for personal possession of all drugs, has the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U. and a documented decline of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders since drug use and personal possession was decriminalized.
The evidence that law enforcement has failed to prevent the availability of illegal drugs, in communities where there is demand, is now unambiguous. Furthermore, there is no evidence that increasing the ferocity of law enforcement meaningfully reduces the prevalence of drug use.
In fact it is important to acknowledge the harmful consequences of punitive drug laws:
- HIV epidemics fuelled by the criminalization of people who use illicit drugs and by prohibitions on the provision of sterile injecting equipment and opioid substitution treatment.
- HIV and Tuberculosis outbreaks among incarcerated and institutionalized drug users as a result of punitive laws and policies.
- The undermining of public health systems when law enforcement drives drug users away from prevention and care services and into environments where the risk of infectious disease transmission and other harms is increased.
- A crisis in criminal justice systems as a result of record incarceration rates in a number of nations, negatively affecting the social functioning of entire communities. While racial disparities in incarceration rates for drug offences are evident in countries all over the world.
- Stigma towards people who use illicit drugs, which reinforces the political popularity of criminalizing drug users and undermines HIV prevention and other health promotion efforts.
- Severe human rights violations, including torture, forced labour, inhuman and degrading treatment, and execution of drug offenders in a number of countries.
- A massive illicit market worth an estimated annual value of US$ 320 billion, the profits of which are entirely outside of government control, fuelling crime, violence and corruption.
- Billions of tax dollars wasted on a “War on Drugs” that does not achieve its stated objectives but instead directly or indirectly contributes to the above harms.
We applaud Argentina, Brazil and Mexico for having the courage to take rational steps to reduce risks, improve health outcomes and mitigate the impact of drug related crime on communities.
Mick Matthews Senior Civil Society Officer the Global Fund
Mauro Guarinieri Civil Society Officer The Global Fund
Vitaly Zhumagaliev Civil Society Officer The Global Fund
See also TNI/WOLA press release.