More on UNODC’s decrim paper

Steve Rolles at Transform has an outstanding update and analysis of the situation regarding the “leak” of the UNODC paper recommending decriminalization worldwide, and it’s withdrawal due to pressure.

The truth behind the UNODC’s leaked decriminalisation paper

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has responded to the ‘leak’ of its briefing paper calling for the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use. Before considering this response, it’s important to be clear this wasn’t really a ‘leak’ in the classic sense. The document was to be presented by the UNODC at the International Harm Reduction Conference in Kuala Lumpur, and an embargoed copy had already gone to select media (the norm for such publication events). When it was then pulled at the last minute, the BBC, which had already filmed a news segment on it, decided to release it anyway. Richard Branson was filmed for the segment as a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, and was sufficiently annoyed when the UNODC backtracked, that he broke the story himself on his blog.

The UNODC response claims that the briefing is not a final or formal document, and does not amount to a statement of its policy position. It also rejects the allegation that the briefing was stopped from being launched as a result of political pressure. This does, however, feel distinctly like an organisation backtracking under pressure (even if that is something, of course, they would never own up to). It would certainly not be the first time member state presssure has led to supression of a controversial UN drugs paper. Its impossible to know what pressure might have been applied, but this report from New York Times at least strongly suggests that it was the US (as widely suspected) that derailed the publication (ironically having found out about it via a New York Times approach for comment).

Firstly, while the agency now says its decriminalisation paper “cannot be read as a statement of UNODC policy”, the paper itself explicitly says “This document clarifies the position of the UNODC”, before going on to deliver its damning critique of criminalisation and its recommendation to decriminalise personal drug possession and low-level drug dealing offences, all carefully referenced to the relevant UN statements, evidence and international law.


But whatever has gone on behind the scenes, the UNODC are now answerable to a document that is very much in the public domain. If they are suggesting there are flaws in the analysis, or that they don’t agree with any of it, then they will need to say why. They won’t be able to because it’s a legally and empirically bulletproof briefing that largely echoes statements they and other UN agencies have previously made. The UNODC, when challenged, will stand by the content of this document – because they have to.

They wrote it, and it is 100% correct.

You may legitimately ask why we should care what an outdated agency like the UNODC does or says. But the truth is that their support of the drug war has provided political cover for the actions of oppressive countries around the world. Even here in the U.S., mentions of our “obligations” to U.N. drug control treaties have been used to cavalierly dismiss discussions regarding drug policy reform.

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