Several UN agencies have previously called for the decriminalization of illicit drug offenses relating to personal use, among others the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has so far expressed some reservations about decriminalization, in spite of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) hailing the Portuguese model – of which decriminalization is one component – as a “best practice” example.
Any reservations now seem to have abated, however, as the United Nations Chief Executive Board (UNCEB) – consisting of the leaders of the 31 UN agencies – has unanimously decided to call on UN member states to decriminalize illicit drug possession for personal use. According to the document, available here, the agencies pledge to:
” … promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use, and to promote the principle of proportionality, to address prison overcrowding and overincarceration by people accused of drug crimes, to support implementation of effective criminal justice responses that ensure legal guarantees and due process safeguards pertaining to criminal justice proceedings and ensure timely access to legal aid and the right to a fair trial, and to support practical measures to prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and torture;”
This marks a paradigm shift in the UN and sends an important signal in a time when several countries wish to continue the war on drugs, some – such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka – wanting to employ even more authoritarian and inhumane measures than before. Next week, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) will enter into its 62nd session in Vienna. We at the Association for Safer Drug Policies hope that the Norwegian delegation in attendance will state clearly that the abolition of criminal proceedings against drug users is no longer just something that countries may opt for, but is the only right thing to do.