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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Sunday 10th March 2013

I’ve been trying for several days to sit down and write about the 2012 annual report from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). The problem I’ve been having is that I’ve already written most of what there is to say when I blogged about the 2011 report in February last year. You see, the 2012 report is the same irrelevant attempt by the INCB to justify its own existence.

There are two other problems I have. The first is that the INCB is a target rich environment when it comes to exposing the hypocrisies of the present drug control regime. I’ll give just one example. According to the report’s section on Saudi Arabia, the INCB;

‘commends the country’s government agencies involved in drug control for their commitment and efforts in the fight against drug abuse and drug trafficking’

Those ‘commitment and efforts’ include executing some of those convicted of drug related offences but the INCB says nothing about that even though use of the death penalty is officially against UN policy. The INCB is quick to jump on countries failing to follow UN policy on drugs but silent on this more deplorable breach. Someone on Twitter said that such an execution took place while the INCB was making a visit to Saudi Arabia suggesting it would be hard for the INCB to pretend it hadn’t noticed that the policy it exists to enforce makes use of capital punishment.

My other problem is that there are many better qualified to write about the INCB and they do so. I recommend;

INCB Watch from the International Drug Policy Consortium
Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program, on LSE Ideas
Daniel Wolfe, Director of the International Harm Reduction Development Program, in Huffington Post

After considering these problems, I decided there were two points about the INCB report that I would like to comment on; both show how strange the position of this body is.

The first concerns what the report says about Bolivia. Anyone familiar with how companies report their financial results will know about ‘post balance sheet events’. Though the accounts may cover a period ending, say, 31st December 2012 if the factory burned down on 8th January this will be mentioned in the accounts as a post balance sheet event that has relevance to the future of the business.

The INCB seems not to understand this concept. Its 2012 report covers, surprise, 2012 and so it says of Bolivia’s re-accession to the Single Convention;

‘Should the proposed reservation be deemed to be permitted (that is, if less than one third of States parties have objected to it by the end of 12 months after the date of notification by the Secretary-General, i.e. by 10 January 2013), the Plurinational State of Bolivia will be authorized to accede to the Convention with the reservation.’

The INCB report was published on Tuesday 5th March. Are we supposed to assume that it took the printers over two months to produce which is why the text refers to the 10th January 2013 as if it is in the future?

Further on in its section on Bolivia, the report says;

‘Therefore, in the Board’s opinion, the reservation proposed by the Plurinational State of Bolivia is contrary to the fundamental object and spirit of the 1961 Convention. The Board believes that the approach taken by the Government — of denunciation of the Convention and re-accession with a reservation with respect to coca leaf — might create a dangerous precedent with incalculable consequences that could jeopardize the very fundament of the international drug control regime in the long run. If the international community were to accept an approach whereby States parties used the mechanism of denunciation and re-accession with reservations to overcome problems in the implementation of certain treaty
provisions, the integrity of the international drug control system would be undermined.

‘The Board calls upon the Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to very seriously consider all the implications of its actions in this regard,’

So the INCB is calling, in March, for Bolivia to not do something that it did back in January.

Either the INCB is demonstrating its irrelevance by failing to keep up with events or it is trying to use the excuse that the report is about 2012 to buy itself some time to see what the effect, if any, of Bolivia’s reservation is before making any further ridiculous claims that the world is about to end as it did in its 2011 report.

The other item in the report that interested me was the INCB’s attack on the USA. The final chapter of the report has a total of forty recommendations for future activities. For each one, the INCB sets out the issue and then provides its recommendation in bold.

Though many of these recommendations refer to regions or groups of countries only, by my count, seven countries are named; Lao, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and the USA.

In Recommendation 5, the INCB expresses its ‘serious concern’ about the changes in the control regime for Cannabis sativa, marijuana, and, because even it doesn’t have the arrogance to think it can dictate to individual states in the US, it delivers this slap on the wrist to the federal government;

‘The Board stresses the importance of universal implementation of the international drug control treaties by all States parties and urges the Government of the United States to take the necessary measures to ensure full compliance with the international drug control treaties on its entire territory.’

The INCB could be entering dangerous territory here (though I should note the possibility that the wording of this rebuke was agreed with the US government so that other countries couldn’t complain about unfair treatment).

At present, the federal government is, officially, opposed to the changes taking place in a number of states regarding ‘medical marijuana’ and in Colorado and Washington, following last years’ votes to allow regulated recreational use. It is, however, possible that the White House will wake up to the need to take rational action countrywide to avoid a jumble of different regimes leading to a regulatory nightmare. If that happened, the INCB could, as the World Health Organisation did with its research on cocaine in the 1990s 5th July 2011, discover that the US doesn’t take kindly to UN bodies saying things it disagrees with.


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