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June 2009
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Some reactions to the UNODC World Drug Report 2009

I’ve been interested to see what how the media will characterize this report, and what they notice within it, since this one has some significantly differences (the attack on legalizers and the acknowledgement of certain prohibition flaws). A lot of early reports merely parrot back the drug use/seizure data contained about their particular country as if it really meant something without the larger context, but there have been some other approaches.
“bullet” Time Magazine’s Skimmer picked up on some of the more interesting shifts:

This year’s report from the U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime did something that last year’s did not: it addressed the “growing chorus” of people in favor of abolishing drug laws altogether. And though its authors maintain that legalizing narcotics would be an “epic mistake,” the office’s executive director, Antonio Maria Costa, does agree that loosening regulations might not be such a bad idea: “You can’t have effective control under prohibition, as we should have learned from our failed experiment with alcohol in the U.S. between 1920 and 1933.” […]

[Update: Turns out that quote was from LEAP’s Jack Cole, not Costa. Thought that sounded a little too good for Costa.]

On moving beyond “reactive law enforcement”: “Those who take the “drug war” metaphor literally may feel this effort is best advanced by people in uniform with guns [but] in the end, the criminal justice system is a very blunt instrument for dealing with drug markets … the arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of individuals is an extremely slow, expensive and labor intensive process.”

“bullet” On the other hand, the Associated Press really screwed the pooch with their article. It’s like they didn’t even read the damn thing and just asked somebody to give them some talking points.

Marijuana, or cannabis, remained the most widely used and cultivated drug in the world and it is more harmful than commonly believed, the report said.
As a result, the number of people seeking treatment is rising. Roughly 167 million people use marijuana at least occasionally.

Wow. What a mess.
“bullet” Ryan Grim has some great coverage at Huffington Post: UN Backs Drug Decriminalization In World Drug Report

In an about face, the United Nations on Wednesday lavishly praised drug decriminalization in its annual report on the state of global drug policy. In previous years, the UN drug czar had expressed skepticism about Portugal’s decriminalization, which removed criminal penalties in 2001 for personal drug possession and emphasized treatment over incarceration. The UN had suggested the policy was in violation of international drug treaties and would encourage “drug tourism.”
But in its 2009 World Drug Report, the UN had little but kind words for Portugal’s radical (by U.S. standards) approach.

“bullet” Jacob Sullum has The U.N.’s 10-Year Plan to Eradicate Drugs: How’d That Go?

The shocking (and encouraging) thing is that Costa, an economist with a Ph.D. from U.C.-Berkeley, is a pretty smart guy (though not quite as smart as he thinks he is). The fact that he ends up mouthing the same sort of non sequiturs, unsupported generalizations, obvious falsehoods, Orwellian redefinitions, and empty platitudes that you hear from the average ex-DEA bureaucrat is yet another sign that drug warriors are intellectually bankrupt.
But reformers shouldn’t get cocky….

“bullet” Over at Transform: UN Office on Drugs and Crime admits it is at war with itself

Danny Kushlick, Head of Policy at Transform said:

‹UNODC is officially at war with itself. The Executive Director has admitted repeatedly that the UNODC oversees the very system that gifts the vast illegal drug market to violent criminal profiteers, with disastrous consequences. The UNODC is effectively creating the problem it is claiming to eliminate. Mr Costa has identified five major ‘unintended consequences‰ of the drug control system. Is there a time limit on how long a consequence remains ‘unintended‰? Aren‰t they now just ‘consequences‰?Š

Also at Transform: World Drug Report Preface majors on legalisation

it is the same confused mix of misrepresentations, straw man arguments, and logical fallacies that we are used to hearing from the UNODC’s drug warriors. The particularly strange thing here though is that some of the analysis of the problem, the critique at least, is actually fairly good – it’s where it leads that is so extraordinary…. […]
it might be useful to view this preface as a barometer of the debate globally, and of Transform and other reform NGOs having a real impact on the international debate at the highest levels, including the UNODC. It is a reflection of the progress the reform movement has made that the legalization/regulation issue takes up so much of the space in the preface, and that the UNODC feels the need to go on the defensive this prominently.
Secondly, we would suggest that it is indicative of an institutional problem at UNODC, that something as internally inconsistent as this passes muster and is allowed into the public domain. They fully acknowledge that prohibition, under the auspices of the UN drug agencies and international drug control infrastructure, has been a generational disaster on multiple fronts – and yet then call for more of the same, brushing off those who call for a debate on alternatives with the offensive and childish smear of being ‘pro-drugs’.

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