The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) opened its 58th session on the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on Monday in Vienna, Austria, with several Latin American countries—Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay and Bolivia—lobbying for a reform of global counternarcotic strategy. The CND special opening session will meet until March 13 to prepare for the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem, with the annual session continuing until March 17.
The last UNGASS on drugs was held in 1998 with the goal of creating “A Drug Free World” by eliminating the illicit production of coca, cannabis and opium and reducing large scale demand by 2008. In 2009, the new Political Declaration and Action Plan of Action largely echoed the 1998 document and set the next UNGASS for 2019. But in September 2012, the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico called for a conference on drug policy reform. With support from 95 other countries, the global drug policy summit meeting was set for 2016 to discuss drug use from a public health perspective.
Latin America is one of the most drug-stricken regions of the world. According to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Central America has seen an increase in the production and consumption of drugs since 2009. A UN study reported less 200 million drug users worldwide in 2005, but more than 250 million in 2012.
“[Current] drug policies are not producing the expected results and, as such, cannot continue without modifications,” said Yesid Reyes, Colombia’s minister of justice. He advocated for a thorough review of international policy to make it “more humane and efficient.” Mexican Under Secretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo echoed the sentiment: “[The world cannot] repeat actions from the past and expect different results,” he said.
Bolivian President Evo Morales pushed for legalizing the chewing of coca leaves during a 53-country United Nations narcotics control meeting on Monday in Vienna. A former cocalero and coca grower’s union leader, Morales held up a coca leaf during his address and argued that growing and chewing the crop are staples of Bolivia’s Andean culture.
In 1961, Bolivia’s military government ratified the U.N. Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that declared the coca leaf an illegal narcotic, along with cocaine, heroin opium and others substances. The Morales administration withdrew from the convention last year and yesterday the president called its ratification a “historic error,” and said the “absurd prohibition of coca chewing” is not acceptable in Bolivia. “The coca leaf is not cocaine. We have to get rid of this misconception," he added.
Bolivia is willing to rejoin the convention only if member nations approve an amendment allowing traditional cultivation and consumption of coca leaves. But Yuri Fedotov, chief of UNODC, responded to Morales’ appeal by warning that “such kinds of initiatives in the long run may undermine” international consensus on drug control and “have a domino effect.”
Morales also used his time on the floor on Monday to call on developed nations to give Bolivia the tools to crack down on illegal cultivation intended for the manufacture of cocaine. Bolivia is the third-biggest cocaine producer after Peru and Colombia and the president asked for helicopters and other technology to combat drug-trafficking. The U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs said this month that Bolivia has “failed demonstrably to make sufficient efforts to meet its obligations under international counter-narcotics agreements" over the last year.