UN experts call for an end to the ‘war on drugs’

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In a statement released Friday, June 23, a group of UN officials and human rights experts called for an end to the “global war on drugs”.

On the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (2023), the organization is advocating for a step change in the way countries around the world approach drug policy, emphasizing on health and human rights, rather than on criminalization.

The experts, including several representatives of the Human Rights Council, point out that current policies disproportionately affect marginalized groups and ethnic minorities, in particular people of African descent, indigenous peoples, women and people who identify as LGBTIQ+.

The ‘war on drugs’ can be viewed to a large extent as a war on people,” the statement read.

“Its impact has been greatest on people living in poverty, and it often overlaps with discrimination against marginalized groups, minorities and indigenous peoples. »

In several countries, the “war on drugs” has been more effective as a system of racial control than as a tool to reduce drug markets… Criminal laws and the punitive use of administrative and other sanctions stigmatize already marginalized populations”.

In the United States, blacks are 9 times more likely than whites to be prosecuted for possession of cannabis. Furthermore, a recent government-funded study found that Aboriginal Australians were more likely to be charged with a cannabis-related offense than the rest of the population.

The United Nations also points out that criminalization and incarceration prevent people from accessing the care and support they need. According to its own data, only one in eight people with drug addiction has access to proper treatment.

“Criminalization results in significant barriers to accessing health services (including for HIV and palliative care) and other human rights violations,” the experts continue.

“As called for in the common position of the United Nations system on drug-related issues, the use and possession of drugs for personal purposes should be decriminalized as a matter of urgency. Drug use or addiction is never sufficient justification to detain a person.”

They conclude: “We urge Member States and international bodies to replace their current drug policies with policies based on the principles of applying a comprehensive, restorative and reintegrative justice approach. Effective, community-based, inclusive and preventative measures are equally important.”

EU drug report highlights need for reform

This statement comes the week after the publication of the latest European Drug Report, which highlights the prevalence of drug use and trends across Europe.

According to the findings of the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), cannabis remains the most commonly used illicit drug in Europe, with around 8% (22.6 million) of European adults (aged 15-64 years) estimated to have consumed during the past year.

The number of offenses related to the use or possession of cannabis has also increased, with cannabis seizures reaching their highest level in ten years, while cannabis is believed to be responsible for almost a third of all drug treatment admissions.

The findings led to renewed calls for policy makers to address the need for reform, with cannabis remaining widely available across the continent and new products made from semi-synthetic cannabinoids, such as HHC, also becoming increasingly accessible.

Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, a researcher in international drug policy, says the report reinforces the importance of adopting a “preventive harm reduction approach”.

Research carried out by the EMCDDA has shown that trends in cannabis use are not linked to changes in policy or legislation, whether it is a greater or lesser penalty.

“People use cannabis for a variety of reasons that, on the whole, are little affected by legislative changes or more or less police presence in their lives,” he told Cannabis Health. .

“The increase in the number of police officers makes life more difficult for cannabis users, but does not affect their consumption. It only makes it more risky. »

“This only reinforces the role of prevention and harm reduction as the best way to combat the health effects of cannabis use. »

In his recent publication, Sustainable Cannabis Policy ToolkitMr. Riboulet-Zemouli offers key recommendations for leaders to take a public health approach to cannabis regulation and education.

It calls for an end to prevention campaigns based on fear, stigma and misinformation, as well as those carried out by law enforcement.

Instead, governments should shift public spending on drugs from law enforcement to health, with an emphasis on harm reduction, prevention and education programs.

Decades of civil society work has summarized key aspects of cannabis prevention, which should be “evidence-based, non-judgmental and open to interactive dialogue, genuinely inclusive, delivered by trained facilitators or peers, who fully integrates harm reduction and pays particular attention to intersecting issues of gender, racism, social justice and stigma,” he explains.

Prohibition has also impeded research and “knowledge sharing” regarding the health effects, risks and safe use of cannabis, leading to “significant gaps” in our understanding, according to Mr. Riboulet-Zemouli .

It recommends that all governments fund independent research into “all aspects” of the cannabis plant.

European states adopt new approaches

A number of European countries are introducing or planning to introduce new approaches to regulating cannabis for recreational or adult use. These include Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, as well as Switzerland.

The first trial for adult use in Switzerland was launched in the city of Basel at the beginning of the year, and others should be set up soon. Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Germany are all expected to follow this ‘trial’ approach, after Germany scaled back plans for full legalization, citing difficulties with EU and UN law. united.

This is the first part of his incremental approach to reform. Germany is also expected to decriminalize personal use and self-cultivation by the end of the year, with Cannabis Clubs to be set up in the meantime.

Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli believes that the Cannabis Social Club model is an “effective” and “non-stigmatising” tool to help prevent potential cannabis-related harm.

“Today, there is a significant body of academic literature showing that a well-thought-out, small-scale regulatory model like the Cannabis Social Club is an effective tool to mitigate the potential harms of cannabis use while providing a link for prevention and education campaigns to reach users in a direct and non-stigmatising environment,” he commented.

“In this respect, it is satisfying to see that the model of the Cannabis Social Club – a form of eminently sustainable and born in Europe, social economy adapted to cannabis – has found favor with a number of governments of European countries. EU in their plans to regulate the substance. »

Meanwhile, France is tightening the screw

Faced with these paradigm shifts in various European countries, France is doing the opposite.

Cannabis is still the most widely used illicit drug in France. The latest statistics on cannabis consumption in France indicate that in 2021, 7.3% of adults aged 18 to 64 say they have already used cannabis in their lifetime. Use during the year concerns 10.6% of 18-64 year olds.

For the past 50 years, French politicians have been calling for and implementing increasingly severe sanctions to combat drug consumption.

In this regard, the authors of the report state: “The objective of drug policy should be above all to reduce harm in order to maximize health and well-being. While primary prevention of population risk behaviors (such as drug use) is a key element of public health approaches, it must be a means to reduce harm, not an end in itself. »

“This nuance has been lost in contemporary approaches to drug policy, which equate use and harm. »

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