United Nations Chief calls for the decriminalization of all drugs

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The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, openly defied the main drug control body at the UN this week in a speech which promoted the decriminalization of all drugs. His remarks countered the organization’s top narcotics officials who released a report earlier in the week criticizing marijuana legalization efforts around the world.

“Current efforts have fallen short of the goal to eliminate the illicit drugs market,” said Guterres in a short video message, “We can promote efforts to stop organized crime while protecting human rights, enabling development and ensuring rights-based treatment and support. I am particularly proud of the results of the reforms I introduced in Portugal when I was prime minister almost 20 years ago.”

As Prime Minister of Portugal, Guterres instituted the now-famous policy to decriminalize all drugs in the country in 2001. Since then, the policy has received praise from legalization advocates around the world for greatly reducing the rates of overdose deaths, HIV infections and even overall use among young adults, according to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

The Secretary-General’s message was addressed to one of two drug control bodies within the UN, the Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND), which held its annual meeting this week in Vienna, Austria. The CND is made up of member countries which are responsible for the majority of the world’s medicinal opium market (including imports and exports), but also oversees the trafficking of substances which are considered illegal.

On Monday, the other arm of the UN drug control efforts, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), issued its annual report which was critical of countries which have made efforts to legalize or decriminalize cannabis in recent years.

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“The limitation of the use of controlled substances to medicinal and scientific purposes is a fundamental principle to which no derogation is permitted under the 1961 Convention as amended,” the INCB report reads.

The INCB has been criticized in the past for making political statements in its reports since it is deliberately designed to do the opposite. Unlike the CND, the INCB is made up of individuals with “medical, pharmacological or pharmaceutical experience” who are appointed by the World Health Organization to provide their expertise.

Both of the UN drug control bodies predate the organization itself and were established to regulate the international market for opiates under the predecessor of the UN, the League of Nations. They have remained strictly cautious about cannabis since the UN passed the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961. They continue to be critical of legalization efforts in countries like Uruguay and Canada.

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