IDPC Side Event – Launch of the IDPC Drug Policy Guide

On Wednesday Morning, IDPC organised a side event to launch the second edition of the IDPC Drug Policy Guide.

Introduction
IDPC is a global network of NGOs that seeks to broaden the space for open debate on drug policy.

Drug policy is a difficult policy area. New approaches are needed. There are reform debates going on in many parts of the world and the CND should engage in these debates. The sharing of international experiences and best practice is crucial. The role of IDPC is to bring this international evidence and build the capcity of civil society in engaging in drug policy debate. This is what we have tried to do with the new version of the IDPC drug policy guide.

The Guide has four parts:
– Core principles of drug policy
– Criminal justice reform
– Health and social programmes
– Strengthening communities

Each of the panellists will present these sections in relation to the contexts of their own countries.

Joao Goulao, Portuguese Drug Czar
The Portuguese drug policy was revised in 1998 and adopted in 2001. The problems related to HIV, etc. started later than in other countries and we were unprepared to deal with these problems. This led to fast growing social, health and criminal problems. In the 1990s, we invited a group of 9 experts, including me. This was a very important experience, we were asked to build a strategy for supply and demand reduction. We prepared a report. The issue is that this was incoherent. The starting point was to tackle drug use in a very pragmatic way, and the criminalising framework was not coherent with this strategy. Inside the framework of the UN Conventions, we went as far as we could. We were told we could propose decriminalisation and drug use is now tackled as an administrative offence. The police still arrests people for using drugs, but they are sent to Commissions for Dissuasion of Drug Addiction. They aim to understand what the needs of the person are.

Decriminalisation is a solution in between. But we feel more comfortable within this framework and the people who seek help can find it without fear of the police. People are in contact with treatment centres. Around 45,000 people are in contact with treatment and harm reduction facilities. Since decriminalisation was approved in 2001, we have a decrease in use among young people. There has been a dramatic decrease in HIV, in drug-related deaths, in imprisonment and in the efficiency of policy forces in terms of drug seizures. Ten years later, we can say that our strategy has had good results. In 1997, drug use was the first identified problem. Now, it is the 13th. A Guide like this can allow us to build better strategies and programmes and put together a very complex puzzle of policies.

There is flexibility within the UN drug convention, Portugal has gone as far as possible within the framework.

Is there any information about the public’s view of the change in Portugal? People knew at least one person who used drugs. And they knew they were not criminals. At the time, there was a strong opposition from the extreme right-wing party which said that Portugal would become a tourism paradise for drug use. But it was easy in terms of society perceptions and the media was supportive as well. Very engaged journalists helped us to support these policies. The system is sufficiently consolidated for government changes not to lead to a reversal in policy.

A key factor to the success of the Portuguese model was to provide adequate treatment and social integration programmes to the communities. What is your perception in terms of budget cuts and how to mitigate the impact of these cuts? Of course, we have important problems in terms of budget cuts. There has been some increase in small smuggling. But we are trying to save the model. We cannot establish a causal link between decriminalisation and good results. It is part of a comprehensive package of health and social measures.

Diana Guzman, Colombia
DeJusticia is a civil society organisation based in Colombia. It is a think-tank organisation seeking to identify the effects of drug policies, especially on the judicial system.

In Colombia, during the last few years, drug policy has become more and more repressive. But these have been ineffective – we are one of the most important producers of drugs and drug trafficking is still in place. In the case of drug trafficking, the use of law enforcement and the police have exacerbated violence.

This shows the important to develop new approaches to the drug problem. President Santos has shown interest on those different approaches on the drugs issue. An approach focusing on reshaping the illicit drug market to make it less harmful is more effective in increasing security in the face of violence. This is the focus of the Guide. It is important for the discussion and for the implementation of drug policies in our countries.

Fransiska Asmin, Indonesia
This Guidance is very useful, not only for policy makers, but also for civil society as well. For Indonesia, we try to move towards decriminalisation. But it is very confusing because of the definition of ‘drug dependence’ and ‘drug user’. Unsurprisingly, the National Narcotic Board mentioned that more than 46,000 prisoners are drug users/dependent. 90% of them are dependent and only 10% are users.

The Guide is also good to promote the health issue as central to drug policy. In Indonesia, we have compulsory treatment, where people are sent for 6 months. We also have a compulsory report – parents can refer their children to centres. Facilities for drug dependence reach only 1% of dependent users, this is not yet a priority in Indonesia.

When the police deals with a user, they send them within the criminal justice system and the judge will decide.

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