The Transnational Institute interviewed by The Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum

TNI recently released The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition

UN_WienThe Transnational Institute (TNI) released a new report this month called The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition’. This report will be presented during the 57th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna. In this article Tom Blickman and Martin Jelsma, who both work for TNI, answer some questions about this report, which is co-financed by the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum Amsterdam/Barcelona, one of the sister companies of Sensi Seeds.

The annual United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs began on Thursday 13th of March 2014 and will continue until the 21st.CND was established by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in1946, to assist them in supervising the application of internationaldrug control treaties. Today the CND is the chief drug policymaking bodyat the UN.

The 57th edition of their annual meeting is expected to be unusually controversial since cannabis decriminalisation and even legalisation is experiencing a huge rise in momentum since 2013, continuing with the start of 2014. During the conference the UN will join conversations with parties like the National Institute on Drug Abuse, American Public Health Association, International Red Cross, NAACP, Human Rights Watch, Global Commission on Drug Policy and TNI.

TNI recently released The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition; a report on the effects of criminalizing cannabis instead of preserving it for medicinal use and instigating proper research into its properties. The report is co-authored by Dave Bewley-Taylor, Tom Blickman and Martin Jelsma and co-sponsored by the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum Amsterdam/Barcelona.

The Museum interviewed Tom Blickman and Martin Jelsma during the conference in Vienna to help publicize TNI and their report.

Tom and Martin, thank you for your time. Can you briefly describe what TNI represents?

“The Transnational Institute is an international policy think tank committed to critical analyses of the global problems of today and tomorrow. One of its programs is the ‘Drugs & Democracy’ (D&D) program which has gained a reputation over the years as one of the leading international drug policy institutes and a critical watchdog of the UN drug control system, one of the areas we have specialised in.”

Tom Blickman

What are your roles in this organisation?

“Martin Jelsma is the programme director and Tom Blickman is one of the main researchers on cannabis, which is one of his areas of expertise. TNI is not an academic institute that pretends to be ‘neutral’; we do very solid research but also translate the outcomes into policy recommendations and we actively promote drug policy changes guided by the principles of harm reduction and human rights. We also seek reforms of the outdated UN drug control conventions, which were inconsistent from the start and have been overtaken by new scientific insights and pragmatic policies that have proven to be more successful.

“Since its start in 1996, the D&D programme has always maintained a special focus on the implications of the current drug control model for countries in the South and for farmers involved in the cultivation of coca, opium or cannabis, linking the drugs issue with the broader development goals of poverty reduction, public health promotion, human rights protection and peace building. We play an active role in international networks, being a founding member of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and advisor since the start of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the initiative of a group a Latin American ex-presidents.”

What is the role of TNI according to the international discussion on drug issues?

“Most of our work is in Latin America and Southeast Asia, on issues like human rights violations in the war on drugs for users, farmers and small traders, doing research on, for example, the disproportionality of sentences, prison overpopulation, forced eradication of subsistence farming of coca, opium and cannabis, trends in the drug markets, etcetera.

“A big part of our work is bringing people together who could make a change, by organising drug law reform expert seminars and informal dialogues with drug policy officials from governments and multilateral institutions behind closed doors. We are regularly involved in efforts to review national legislation, in Ecuador, Burma or Thailand for example. And with specific countries seeking our advice on for example the workings of the UN conventions and agencies, we have cooperated intensively.

Martin Jelsma

“We assisted the Bolivian government in its efforts to challenge the treaty system on the issue of the coca leaf and traditional use, which led to Bolivia becoming the first country to withdraw from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and last year re-adhere with a reservation on coca leaf. With the Uruguayan government we’ve collaborated these past five years in preparation for their brave move to become the first country to legally regulate the cannabis market, from ‘seed to sale’.

“We are also deeply involved in UN drug policy processes, like right now the annual session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna – this is the 18th year we are participating in the CND – and preparations for the special session of the UN General Assembly (UNGASS) in 2016. And, while not a first priority area for our programme, we do regularly take part in the debate here in the Netherlands, giving evidence in parliamentary hearings, or recently co-organising the ‘Transparent Chain’ conference in Utrecht.”

Why did you choose this moment to release a report on this topic?

“Cannabis policy developments are speeding up, with the referenda in Washington and Colorado, and the adoption of the regulation proposal in Uruguay. This reality is shaking the very foundations of the international drug control regime and nobody knows how the legal tensions with the treaties need to be resolved. We thought this was the right moment to publish a well-researched report to show how cannabis was brought under international control, how the UN system has been dealing with it over the decades, how many countries have implemented pragmatic policies that deviate from a strict interpretation of the treaties, and what the options are to change the treaty rules.”

What are the most important findings of the report?

“In the first place that cannabis was included in the 1925 Geneva convention on dubious grounds, almost by accident. It was then copy-pasted into the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the basis of the UN control regime today, without the required WHO assessment, as a drug with ‘particularly dangerous properties’ and without medical usefulness. Secondly, that since the start several countries have found pragmatic ways to avoid strict implementation of the treaty’s cannabis provisions. These range from turning a blind eye to continuing traditional cannabis uses to the more pronounced models of the Dutch coffeeshops, the US-style generous ‘medical’ marijuana schemes, and the Spanish social cannabis clubs. All these soft defections from the regime have led to legal inconsistencies and hypocrisy, and the next logical step is legal regulation of the whole market.”

rise-decline-coverWhat do you think will happen to international cannabis prohibition in the near future?

“The 2012 referenda in Washington and Colorado, and the approval in December 2013 of the regulation law in Uruguay, are going to trigger a domino effect. Many more states in the USA are preparing similar initiatives, and in several countries a majority can now be found to follow in the footsteps of Uruguay. As president Mujica said: “someone had to be the first”. In several Latin American and Caribbean countries, like Mexico, Chile or Jamaica, legislation is either already introduced or in preparation, but the trends are also influencing discussions in countries such as Morocco, India and the Netherlands. What we are witnessing is the historical moment of the beginning of the end of global cannabis prohibition. De-constructing the global cannabis control regime, however, will still take time. It will be a gradual process and many countries will not end their national cannabis prohibition at all, after all there are also still some ten countries that maintain a strict national alcohol prohibition regime.”

What contribution do you hope the report can make?

“With our report we hope to support and accelerate this trend, by showing that it is a logical outcome of a long history of inconsistencies and soft defections. Those defections have not led to explosions of cannabis use, and we argue that therefore the next step in that process, legal regulation, is not a step into the dark. By wide distribution in English and Spanish, and several presentations in different countries, we will stimulate the debate in favour of legal regulation, starting with a launch in Vienna at the heart of the UN drug control machinery.

“Finally, the report also outlines various options for convention reform or for changing a country’s obligations under the treaties, from a WHO review of cannabis scheduling to ‘modifications inter se’, agreements among a group of like-minded countries to change the terms of a treaty with effect among themselves only. Those are complicated procedures, but, as the report argues: “The question facing the international community today is no longer whether or not there is a need to reassess and modernize the UN drug control system, but rather when and how to do it”.