United Nations in Vienna, "Beyond 2008" NGO Forum    (Lennice Werth)

Historical perspective on Beyond 2008:

When Harry Anslinger and his cronies got passage of the United States Marijuana Tax Act they knew it was unconstitutional. (Use of other drugs had been limited to medical only by the Harrison Act passed in 1914, refined and strengthened in 1917. It too was on constitutional thin ice.) A court challenge could topple prohibition at anytime - Marijuana, and possibly other drugs would again be legal.
Article Six of the Constitution however, states that any treaty agreed to by congress would become the law of the land. That became the final career goal for Anslinger, and he went about incorporating marijuana prohibition into the International Single Convention Treaty. All Nations who sign on are obliged to make all recreational use of "drugs," illegal.
The single convention treaty was implemented in 1961. Since then, marijuana and other drug prohibitions are "constitutional" in this indirect way. The only way for us to amend US law is to reform the Single Convention Treaty. It seems strange, but if we could convince the entire United States Congress that prohibition is wrong, and they were ready to change the laws to allow for taxation and regulation, prohibitionists can, and certainly would speak up, pointing out that we can not do that because the United States is a signatory nation to the Single Conventions on drugs.
About every ten years the treaty is reviewed. It can be changed, in fact it has been. During the eighties it was toughened up, calling for more stringent enforcement and punishment of dealers and users. This was a response to the crack cocaine epidemic of that day and the highly publicized death of basketball star Len Bias in 1986 of a cocaine overdose. At that time, reform organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance, The November Coalition either did not yet exist or were in their early formation.
In the review that took place ion 1998, reformers came to New York for the International drug summit, but for the most part it, they were on the outside looking in. Only a few of us were able to gain access to the proceedings and almost none had the status to speak.
In their arrogance, the international drug prohibition establishment declared that they would achieve a drug free world by 2008. The fact that this goal was impossible has given us an opening to constructively criticize the conventions.
For the last ten years many of us have struggled to understand the labyrinth that is the international treaty process, and by the time the 2008 review came around, we were quite a bit better prepared. Eva Tongue*,Vice Chair of the NGO Committee on Narcotic Drugs, asked that non governmental organizations be given a forum to contribute to the drug law deliberation. This was done by asking several lead NGOs to set up regional meetings across the globe.

*Dr.Eva Tongue Bio-

Because our drug laws have their constitutional basis in article six of the US Constitution, which states that treaties agreed to by a supermajority of congress are the law of the land. In 1961 the Single Convention Treaty made recreational drug use illegal and standardizes world policy regarding illegal drugs. The treaty is reviewed every ten years. The last time was in 1998 when it was declared that there would be a drug free world by this time.

Everyone can see that that mark was missed and the whole world is ready to move on to harm reduction and decriminalization of drug use.

The apparatus set up by the International Single Convention Treaty is the International Narcotics Control Board, INCB. The Beyond 2008 conference was an opportunity for Non-governmental organizations (NGO's) to comment and have input to the process that sets these international conventions on drugs.

The UN had regional meetings all over the world. In the US, that meeting was in St. Petersburg Florida. The organizers refused to admit reform organizations, objections to that exclusion lead to a Vancouver meeting which was open to all ideologies.

The purpose of the "Beyond 2008," NGO Form was to combine the documents from the regional forms into one resolution for the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to consider.

July 6, (day one of the conference)

At the Beyond 2008 conference in Vienna (July 6th-9th,) which had representatives from all regional meetings, the elephant in the room was, "Why were there two regional meetings in North America?" The answer became sort of obvious because every regional meeting's report mentioned harm reduction and decriminalization of drug use except the St. Petersburg USA report. They were completely out of step with the rest of the world and others from their own region who were blocked from attending the all expense paid conference – prohibitionists only - Florida meeting.

Opening remarks by the international Drug czar, were a bit hard core, seeming to me to be a mouthpiece for the current hard line objectives of the Single Convention Treaty, law enforcement, demand reduction - with little room for the kind of reforms many of us had come to advocate for.

In Vienna, the political content of the room became apparent within a few hours of the opening speeches.

The great majority of the delegates were moderate, responsible activists in the area of drugs. They, for the most part were very concerned about the health of drug using persons. Keeping in mind that these are non governmental organizations some of the of them have strong governmental ties, funding and influence. Some of these organizations from the USA were determined to block any changes in policy.

July 7th:

The positions that are being put forward here are diverse and there has been a lively debate, especially on the issue of harm reduction [HR].
There was a vocal minority who objected to harm reduction because it includes services provided to active users and does not require users to abstain from all drug use as a condition of  receiving help.( More on these groups, keep reading.) These organizations made their case, but despite their discomfort with this term (and HR practices such as needle exchange, ) mentions of HR did make the cut.

One interesting bit of debate came up when treatment options were discussed. Human rights violations as we all know, sometimes pop up as unfortunate side effects of over aggressive treatment styles. One delegate insisted on including respect for human rights and fundamental liberties as part of the paragraph on treatment practices. That language was adopted.

I noticed that one of the representatives of the Asian delegation is wearing a LEAP tee shirt.

July 8th:
The group was determined to finish the Declaration, but progress had been painfully slow the previous day. So the process was streamlined and it was decided that when it came to a contentious issue, a side group would break away and work it out, then report back. Much of the contentiousness was worked through and with a new emphasis on moving forward, the drafting of a resolution was moving more quickly.

When it came to who would be allowed to speak to the world drug issue a small minority of the room refused to consider allowing drug users be part of the discussion. Over and over again, the majority offered wording that would both represent their concerns and appease the vocal opposition.

Finally, a side meeting broke out because the Foundation for a Drug Free America, the International and California Narcotics Police Officers Associations, and the Drug Court  Professionals, were interested in blocking the inclusion of drug users in any discussion of policy. Calvina Fay* of the Drug Free America Foundation, was adamant about refusing drug users in negotiations. Nichola Hall, From Grief to Action, mentioned how her son struggles with drug addictions and that struggle gives him experience that others do not have and might be helpful to listen to. Finally the group did come to an agreement that recognizes drug users as a group that is stigmatized and subject to human rights abuses. Then allows all "affected" populations to be solicited to contribute to discussions about solutions. All be it reluctantly, this compromise was agreed to.

With great difficulty and bruised feelings it was agreed that drug users while not mentioned as such could be described as persons most affected, stigmatized and subject to human rights abuses and the loss of fundamental freedoms. That was a decent description for a lot of us. Then in a different paragraph it is said that, "persons most affected, stigmatized and subject to human rights abuses and the loss of fundamental freedoms," could be heard. Thanks.

The most obstinate opposition came from the Drug Free Schools, Mr. David Evans who stood down a whole room full of people who wanted to say that drug policy could be improved. He said that he had to "Preserve the conventions," and nothing should change, when offering to say more effective methods and practices, he said we must delete the word "more." When no one agreed to that , he said he'd have to get some colleagues for support.

At the same time there was a woman who could not speak because she needed an interpreter. She represented peasants from Peru. When David Evans came back with a few "supporters," one of them could help the woman with a clumsy but understandable translation. Apparently, she had joined the break-out negotiation to ask that the war in her country over the coca fields be stopped. She said that we did need to make a better drug policy for their sake. After that the heart went out of those who refused to mention "more effective," methods and practices.

July 9th:
Several other issues required break out sessions.

{Note: Mike Krawitz moderated one of these and understands the issue and resolution better than I would.}

The final negotiations were very interesting. After more than her fair share of " No's," which effectively blocked many proposed phrases, Calvina Fay of the Drug Free America Foundation, reluctantly relented long enough for the final gavel to be thrown. The Chairman began to say some closing remarks when Calvina Fay raised an objection. It seems that in the paragraph that had been put together by the student led break-out session said that drug users should be heard on policy matters. Apparently it is of the utmost importance to the Drug Free America Foundation to keep young users away from any talks that seek solutions to our most vexing drug problem. Several attempts were made by the chair to get her to agree because the gavel had already been thrown. She would not relent. Then when it seemed the chairman was about to, reluctantly rule her out of order, the student groups, in the interest of consensus, suggested different wording, which Calvina Fay did accept. While all ended well here, I'd say the world got a good look at how out of step the "official," standard bearers for drug policy from the USA are at this strange moment in history.

Finally it was over. The Chair graciously complemented the participants on the high level of cooperation and civility. It made me think they must have to mediate between groups of people who chopped up each other’s relatives.
The Vienna conference pretty much consisted of the debate between American reformers and drug prohibitionists while the rest of the world looked on. Personally, I found it a bit embarrassing that the US had to slug out our differences in front of the whole world like that. But if one side is left out of a preliminary round, then the conflict will naturally break out upstairs. So, I think this was well worth it, to show the world that there are Drug War dissenters in the USA, just as those who would reform drug policy into a kinder affair are dominating the discussion all over the world.

After the conference was over, many of the Vancouver attendees invited some of the St. Petersburg Americans to an informal discussion in the lobby of our hotel. It was a friendly event and all present agreed to look for common ground and real solutions.

*Professor Fay has been an outspoken advocate against the legalization of drugs for over 20 years. She was a founding board member of S.O.S. and she is the former president of Drug Watch International, a network engaged in combating the drug legalization movement globally. Professor Fay has served as an advisor to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy as well as several political leaders, including President Bush, on drug policy issues. (This is from the DFAF webpage.)

Lennice Werth
Virginians Against Drug Violence
Crewe, VA.