Mr. Frederik Polak attended the International Drug Policy Conference in New Orleans in December 2007. Mr. Antionio Maria Costa, the head of UNODC was a guest speaker there. After his speech, participants had the opportunity to ask questions or make comments. This was the first time Dr. Polak posed a simple question to Mr. Costa: “how do you explain that in the Netherlands, where cannabis is legally available for adults, the level of cannabis use is lower than in most other EU countries and in the US?” Mr. Costa simply ignored the question – but this could be attributed to the great number of questions he got.
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is the most important UN meeting on drug policy: it has annual sessions every March in Vienna. In 2008 Costa addressed the NGO Forum of the CND and urged NGOs to be more outspoken. Dr. Polak, who also attended the forum, used took him at his word and asked this question again. Mr. Costa refused to give a proper answer, and silenced Polak when he complained about this. This time HCLU filmed the sceen and created a short movie, which was viewed by ten thousands of people in a few weeks. Embarrassed by the video, he felt the need to travel to Amsterdam and make an official visit to a coffee shop – first time as a UN official.
In May 2008 Mr. Costa accepted an invitation to be a guest speaker of the International Conference on Drug Related Harms in Barcelona. After Costa's speech, Polak had the opportunity to challenge him again. He reformulated his question this time, asking Costa what did he learn during his visit in the Netherlands. Mr. Costa answered that the city of Amsterdam “is characterized by rates of drug addiction – I m referring to cannabis use – three times greater than anywhere else in Europe”. Costa promised to publish a discussion paper soon to prove his statement and his theory: “availability causes use”. This paper has not been published yet.
In December 2008 Dr. Polak sent an open letter to Mr. Costa. He asked him why he still has not published the discussion paper as he promised in Barcelona. “It would be to your eternal credit to acknowledge the fundamentally flawed nature of prohibition, and its apparent ineffectiveness, high costs and severe counter productive effects, while still in office and not only after your retirement,” he wrote. However, no answer has come from the UNODC yet.
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If our dissent voices are united, they will be surely heard.
The UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) gathered in New York to discuss the future directions of global drug policies in 1998. The meeting was dominated by the slogan “A drug free world: we can do it!” and, accordingly, the target adopted was to significantly reduce the demand and supply of illicit drugs within 10 years. Ten years later we can see that member states have failed to achieved these targets, for example: despite massive forced eradication campaigns against farmers, cocaine production has increased by 20% and opium production has increased by 120% in the past decade; and despite restrictive drug laws, in most countries the prevalence of illicit drug use is on the rise. UN drug policies draw harsh criticism from civil society for their unintended consequences: civil wars and organized crime generated by the illegality of drugs, humanitarian and ecological crisis caused by forced eradication, the spread of blood born viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis C due to the lack of support for harm reduction, violation of human rights of drug users in forced drug treatment settings.
On 11-12 March, 2009 the UN will hold a High Level Segment – a meeting of high ranking government officials in Vienna to review the past 10 years of global drug control efforts and to adopt a new Political Declaration for the future decade. We think it has an utmost importance with regard to future drug policies to make our voices heard now.Get to know more!