Two years after the 2016 UN Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs, last week the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) held its 61st session in Vienna planning for inclusive partnerships to address drug challenges and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals on the road to UNGASS 2019.

Despite some changes in local drug policies, the global scene still reveals a mixed bag approach. On the positive side, citizens in four more US States formally supported the right for adults to use recreational cannabis, while in early 2018 Vermont governor signed a similar bill approved by the legislature. The Cannabis Act introduced in the Canadian Senate last December enjoys wide public support and the backing of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, posing Canada on route to become the first G8 nation to legalize recreational marijuana. Some forms of decriminalization are being implemented in Norway, France and Thailand.  A so-called “safe injecting room” is slated to open in Paris soon and two more will launch in San Francisco next July, with local plans about “supervised consumption services” evolving in other US cities. Finally, according to Harm Reduction International, last year at least 280 people are known to have been executed for drug-related offences – less than half of those executed worldwide in 2015.

On the other hand, it’s still up in the air the threat by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind an Obama-era policy (known as “Memorandum Cole”) that paved the way for states to legalize marijuana – despite heavy criticism from lawmakers of both parties and an on-going silence after his first announcement last January. Equally worrisome is a recent plan outlined by President Donald Trump to combat the opioid drug addiction nationwide, calling for stiffer penalties for drug traffickers, including the death penalty where appropriate under current law. This is a direct reference to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and his bloody “war on drugs”, which according to NGOs data has killed over 12,000 “suspects” in less than two years.

The same Harm Reduction International report mentions that Indonesia, Cambodia and other neighboring countries have also expressed explicit support for Duterte’s violent anti-drug campaign and are planning or beginning to implement similar strategies.  This a disturbing trend that could actually start the «undoing years of steady progress and setting a dangerous new precedent».

While attending the 2018 CND sessions, representatives from Forum Droghe also co-managed a side event focused on these extra-judicial executions carried out by Philippines President and introduced an open letter sent to the Italian Government by several National  NGOs working on the frontline of the drug policy reform. It is indeed necessary for Italian authorities to support UN agencies in expanding the open debate launched at UNGASS 2016, which highlighted the worldwide failure of the “war on drugs” and urged the immediate reversal of such strategies by applying a more flexible and human approach to current International conventions.

First and foremost, harm reduction options deserve to be included in future global policies by balancing the excessive investment in punitive measures with widespread interventions at social, health and human rights levels. For its part, Italy must «resume playing a role in line with a deep-rooted culture of democracy, emphasizing its humanitarian approach, social solidarity and human rights», as mentioned in that open letter. As we did in Vienna, we will make sure that the many voices of Italian civil society supporting drug policy reform will be heard loud and clear.
(il Manifesto, 03/14/2018 translated by Bernardo Parrella)