International commission recommends legalizing marijuana

[JURIST] The Global Commission on Drug Policy [official website] released a report [text, PDF] Thursday recommending international legalization of cannabis, marijuana and other drugs. The panel also recommended expanding the variety of treatments available to drug users, as well as making them more available, and investing in programs to discourage children from using drugs, rather than enforcing harsh punishments against drug users. The report also encourages each country to develop unique, human rights-based approaches to drug regulation and violations of drug law.

The idea that the international drug control system is immutable, and that any amendment—however reasonable or slight—is a threat to the integrity of the entire system, is short-sighted. As with all multilateral agreements, the drug conventions need to be subject to constant review and modernization in light of changing and variable circumstances. Specifically, national governments must be enabled to exercise the freedom to experiment with responses more suited to their circumstances. This analysis and exchange of experiences is a crucial element of the process of learning about the relative effectiveness of different approaches, but the belief that we all need to have exactly the same laws, restrictions and programs has been an unhelpful restriction.
Most controversially, the report insisted that the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 [text, PDF] and the US's "War on Drugs" campaign had failed. Both policies recommend limiting possession and use of drugs for non-medicinal or scientific purposes, and addressing drug trafficking through minimum sentencing for any level of drug dealer. The US Office of National Drug Policy (ONDCP) [official website] released a statement in response, denouncing the report [text]: "Legalization remains a non-starter in the Obama Administration because research shows that illegal drug use is associated with voluntary treatment admissions, fatal drugged driving accidents, mental illness, and emergency room admissions."

Members of the panel include: former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan [official profile], Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou [official website], Richard Branson [official profile] and former US Secretary of State George Shultz. Although the report was critical of the US, drug policy has shifted from past stricter policies in recent years. Earlier this week, Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] recommended the retroactive application of a new law [JURIST report] bringing the sentences for crack cocaine more in line for those of powder cocaine. This could reduce the sentences of some currently incarcerated on crack cocaine convictions by an average of three years. Arizona legalized medical marijuana [JURIST report] in November 2010, but Governor Jan Brewer (R) [official website] filed a federal lawsuit [JURIST report] seeking a declaratory judgment over the legality of the law under federal guidelines. Medical marijuana is currently legal in 14 US states. In October 2009, Holder issued guidelines for a new policy [JURIST report] for investigating and prosecuting state-sanctioned medical marijuana use. Those guidelines reflect a pledge made by Holder in March to stop federal raids [JURIST report] on medical marijuana dispensaries that comply with state laws. However, Holder has emphasized that if a state legalizes drugs for recreational use, federal law will be enforced [LAT report], as California attempted to legalize marijuana last year [JURIST report].

 

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