Julio Calzada, National Drugs Board, Uruguay
I am going to talk about the conventions as this is a key issue here. We need to remember that reviewing conventions is important, they evolve over time. If we look at things from today’s perspective, we can see that from our own criteria and perspective, there are many different perspective. During the last meeting of the HLS, there was an approach that the death penalty for drugs offences should be applied for people to realise the dangers of involvement in the market – thankfully nobody applauded, but it was said at the closing. Fedotov said that you cannot deduct that there is only one view on the interpretation of the conventions and we agree with that. The framework of the human rights conventions prevails above all other treaties. When we started designing drug policies, we interpreted the conventions according to human rights principles. It is in the framework of this interpretation that we designed our regulatory market to ensure peace, security, end of violence, and rights of cannabis users to live well. Our law adopted by the Parliament guarantees cannabis users access to these substances. We are therefore tackling the legal market. Uruguay is a country with 3 million people. In 1974, we decriminalised drug use. And now, we are realising that people kept using cannabis, and we realised that we were denying them the right to security and health. This is also to avoid that millions of dollars end up in the hands of traffickers. So how can we be outside of the spirit of the conventions? We consider licences for production, sale and consumption. We have rules to prevent prices going down. We have laws against marketing and advertising. We force the state to provide health care and education.
Alison Holcomb, Washington State
We have passed a law because the state was tired of spending millions of dollars on law enforcement ineffective to curb use. We were also disturbed about the racist application of the law. We fought against the status quo of ineffectiveness. This caused great harms to individuals and communities. But we do not abandon efforts to prevent and educate people on substance use. We replace prohibition and criminal sanctions with new public health approaches. We embrace tight regulation and control of production, sale and use. We have holistic prevention strategies and have a comprehensive evaluation strategy. There are tight regulations on production and advertising. Stores can only have 1 sign, display cannabis to be viewed from the inside, no sale in bars ad grocery stores. There will be labelled information on the quality and THC. Drug-impaired driving is discouraged as well. We include a heavy tax (more than 80% dedicated to prevention, healthcare and treatment). We do campaigns on youth campaigns, and prevent school dropout.We must do a better job at disseminating better data to make better choices for ourselves.
Christian Sederberg, Colorado state
The Colorado referendum gained 55% of the votes and we designed a new cannabis law. A number of steps were taken including a special task force to discuss the issue with other people/ A series of initiatives were passed to improve the system based on the experiences we have already had. On 1st January, the 1st sale of regulated and taxed cannabis started. There was no explosion of cannabis use, it was a peaceful process. There are significant differences between Washington, Colorado and Uruguay. In Colorado we have had medical cannabis for years. Production is all local. We are placing legal restrictions on production, sale and use, but everything is local. The industry is now moving towards a strong regulatory model. We also have limitations on marketing, etc. There is also support for a substantial tax. We passed another law to put the tax into effect in Colorado’s laws. Our campaign was funded by the industry that was going to be taxed. Budget proposals came out now, focusing on education, prevention, limiting the negative impacts of what was happening, and how to take into account these impacts. We think that this is a better policy than before, but we will conduct evidence-based studies to make sure that the outcomes are beneficial.
Martin Jelsma, Transnational Institute
We are pleased to see people in the room and see so much interest in the project. We have just published a report with the Global Drug Policy Observatory. On a day when scheduling is a key issue at CND, it may surprise many that the WHO Expert Committee has never done a review on cannabis. The first discussion took place in 1952 based on the book of the then director of the Expert Committee, and that’s it. It was not a review document. “Cannabis changes people into nothing but human skums… There is no evidence for medical use”… This was not based on scientific evidence. Cannabis was then included in Schedules I and IV, based on a paper written by the same person “Not only is marijuana per say is dangerous but also leads to heroin injecting”. This was a working paper for WHO Secretariat, there was no review by experts at all. It was then smuggled into the 1961 Single Convention, Schedules I and IV (without therapeutic use). Another moment in 1965 at the Expert Committee took place with repeated positions taken previously. Because of this, many countries were not satisfied with cannabis control. In India for example, the practice of use continued without much control. Defections took other forms – Dutch coffee shop system, medical cannabis schemes in the USA, cannabis social clubs in Spain, etc., a variety of different practices to prevent strict applications of cannabis control demanded by the conventions. After these decades of doubts, we have now reached the point of de-jure regulation is taking place. Countries are now seeking more flexibility and this will continue. It is irreversible and will gain more support in America and Europe. Both Uruguay and USA are reluctant to acknowledge the tensions with the conventions, and place this in the context of broader international law. The USA is trying to hide behind the legal argument of the federal system. We will continue to see states trying to justify their new policies and this will spread. It is also clear that there are legal tensions and breaches of the drug control treaties. There are discussions on how to renegotiate the conventions. It is unlikely that there will be a new inspirational Single Convention. But there are options that do not require such a process. This should start with a WHO review process. There are also options of countries signing agreements among themselves.
How can we make sure that the market does not become dominated by big financial companies?
Julio: We cannot guarantee it. But the policy is to demarchandise the substance. We are trying to find a new system that is better than the old one. We want policies that maximise the quality of life of users and the population in general. The state will dictate the price, there is no competition between producers, salers, etc. This creates issues of control, but according to our own design, it is an alternative to the black market for the users. Either criminal organisations will manage it, or we control it through the state to ensure transparency, security and certainty. All those working in favour of the reform show that people who need to use cannabis for medical purposes can now access the substance. We do need evidence, but we need ways of experimenting and solid evaluation. We are moving to the non-medical use and will then move to medical and cosmetic use.
Alison: I reject the assumption that it is the same to be criminalised or not. With respect to the market, it will be a process. As with tobacco, we will stumble our way in, and we will learn to do better.
Christian: For Colorado, I cannot speak for state governments, but we can say that the top priority of our campaign is to ask for the ability to put caps in production to prevent monopolisation. That being said, it is a free market so large companies can be formed. We are moving towards the idea of small production.
How do states guarantee that the new opening of the market remains within their boundaries and do not go into other states? Do you have any safety margins? And how does the central Government react to the US states policies? For Uruguay, for what users are you making cannabis free?
Christian: I don’t think we will have luck preventing this since we are having problems internationally in doing so for other substances. Two types of issues for us: production and transfer to another state, and other people who are not from the state cannot buy. There are limitations on purchasing if you are not a state inhabitant, there are robust regulations, you raise the price of the substances and high taxes, etc.
Alison: We have capped the amount of cannabis that can be produced. We also have the double sided coin where you risk losing your licence if you use or sell outside the state. But what if cannabis does get diverted to other states? What is the harm? What would happen is that this good quality cannabis would replace the bad quality one produce in those states, so harm may be reduced.
Martin: WHO made a study on cocaine and the coca leaf, saying that coca had only positive therapeutic purposes, and no negative effects. The whole department of WHO who conducted the study was dismantled after the study was done. We will see tomorrow the vote on dronabinol, a substance that WHO has advised 3 times to be rescheduled. In the next meeting of the expert committee, cannabis is coming to the agenda, unfortunately not yet for critical review, but for a discussion paper to be drafted.
One of the arguments is to take money out of criminal sector. DO you have studies on what is the cannabis market and what is it compared to other markets? how much money are yo taking out from the criminal market?
90% of cannabis used in Uruguay is not produced in the country. We are now in a situation where the entire production comes from abroad. We seize 10% of the estimated consumption, and we do have estimations: 20 tons of cannabis are consumed every year. We have research, studies on economics, epidemiology, with high degrees of precisions – 30 million dollars. This is what narco-traffickers have in their hands. The rest of the drug market is organised around it, because the cannabis market makes up 90% of the criminal market in the country (in volume terms). Policies must be developed in the spirit of the conventions, based on health and protection of human rights. It is different using cannabis in Europe and in Uruguay. We must all find the best way to control drugs depending on our specificities to protect the health and human rights of people.
Alison: In 2012, we estimated that it could impact the profit margins of the Mexican drug cartels by up to 30%, and would be displacing cannabis from Mexico to other states.
We offer a wide range of skills on how to provide medical cannabis to patients. We believe that this session should include our range of experience to change policies on medical cannabis.
International Federation of Social Workers – I am happy about this presentation. I have worked with users and addicts for most part of my life and times are really changing now. I can only congratulate the representatives of USA and Uruguay for their work and to present different models. These experiments will be evaluated and we will then be able to seriously talk about it. I hope we have EU reps here who are listening to see how this can be adapted to EU countries.