February 2009 saw the publication of a statement from the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, entitled “Drugs and Democracy: Toward a Paradigm Shift.” It was widely covered by regional and global media and the ensuing debate led to positive drug policy changes in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil.
Following this success, the Global Commission on Drug Policy was formed, with several members of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy in its ranks. In 2011 the Global Commission released a report entitled ‘War On Drugs’ which took both the data and the debate to a worldwide level.
The Commission is now preparing another six papers covering its main areas of enquiry – the results of current drug-control measures, harm reduction and suggestions for improved policies. Naturally, more attention is focused on hard drugs due to the far greater damage associated with them; however, two of these papers will specifically address the issue of cannabis legalisation and decriminalisation.
From Paper 4: Criminal justice challenges
Members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy
…Risks and benefits of eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana possession for personal use and other forms of sentencing reform.
The Commission’s purpose is “to bring to the international level an informed, science-based discussion about humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs to people and societies.”
Experience with cannabis
Although a significant proportion of the population in most countries has some experience of cannabis, the fact remains that the majority of people do not. Since this majority may have no personal interest in whether or not cannabis is legal, there is little reason to dig deeper into the issue or examine the validity of the claims made in the mass media and by government sources such as the USA’s Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP) and its international sibling the UNODC.
Such entities do a very effective job of presenting a unified front of marijuana misinformation to the public. They promote the same cycle of speculative health risks supposedly linked to cannabis, referencing the same flawed studies, while selectively and unanimously ignoring the preponderance of evidence that cannabis is a useful medicine and a non-toxic recreational drug.
Harm caused by current drug laws
Given this situation, the work of organisations such as the Global Commission on Drug Policy is especially important. Crucially, the Commission recognises the fact that a majority of the harm caused to individuals and societies that is commonly associated with drug use, trafficking and production is actually a result of drug laws and drug control policies, not the substances themselves.
“Drugs are a complex and controversial issue. There is a growing perception that the ‘war on drugs’ approach has failed. Eradication of production and criminalization of consumption did not reduce drug traffic and drug use. In many countries the harm caused by drug prohibition in terms of corruption, violence and violation of human rights largely exceeds the harm caused by drugs.”
Members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy
The Commission comprises an impressive list of politicians and public figures. Members include:
Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations
George Shultz, former US Secretary of State and first prominent Republican to call for the legalisation of cannabis and other recreational drugs.
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and advocate for social causes
Former leaders of Brazil, Colombia, Greece, Mexico, and Switzerland
Former high-ranking officials from Spain, Germany, France, Norway, and the United Nations
An invaluable resource on an interesting subject
More often than not, cannabis enthusiasts take an interest in the subject of prohibition and drug policy in their region or, indeed, the world at large. Of course, there are many reasons for this (it’s an interesting subject, after all), but one of the most common paths must be the simple progression from experiencing the positive effects of cannabis, to researching the plant and its history, to wondering how on earth any government can justify prohibiting cannabis, let alone punishing and imprisoning its own citizens for using it.
Whether your interest in cannabis is intellectual – in support of rational laws and social justice; medicinal – providing access to a safe and effective medicine; recreational – being allowed to appreciate cannabis for its many other benefits; or agricultural – inspired by the enormous potential of cannabis seeds and industrial hemp, the Commission’s work is an invaluable resource.
This post originally stated that the report ‘Drugs and Democracy: Toward a Paradigm Shift’ was presented by the GCDP, whereas it was actually presented by their predecessor, the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy. The first paragraph has now been edited to correct this.
Studying cannabis and its effects since 1995, educating the masses ever since.