Informal Dialogue with the INCB President

Chaired by Esbjörn Hörnberg (VNGOC), and Katherine Pettus (VNGOC).

Werner Sipp, INCB: Welcomes the dialogue, which is fruitful and useful. It complements our work during missions. It’s important because many of you work on the field, so you have an experience that we do not have (geographical, thematic, etc.). This is in line with the Conventions, which highlight the importance of civil society as a resource for information (Art. 14).

Question 1 (VNGOC): The INCB asks VNGOC to submit a list of civil society organisations working in the countries visited by INCB. Would it be possible that INCB reports back to VNGOC to let us know which NGOs they engaged with?

Werner Sipp, INCB: We want to discuss with governments but also from NGOs working on the grassroots level, and even civil society organisations that do not necessarily fall within the line of the government. This makes reporting difficult because we don’t want to antagonise Member States. We can report on the NGOs that we engaged with, but not so much on the content of the conversations. The dialogue with government in countries requires confidentiality. It allows us to have a more open dialogue.

Question 2 (TNI): At the UNGASS, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, made clear “that indigenous peoples should be allowed to use drugs in their traditional or religious practices”. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has also pointed out on several occasions that the obligation of the 1961 Single Convention to abolish all traditional uses of coca, cannabis and opium, contravene indigenous rights. Do you agree that there exists a legal conflict between the Single Convention and human rights in this regard, and if so, how would you propose to resolve this?

Werner Sipp, INCB: Extremely difficult question. We have had a recent conversation about human rights and the drug control system. We need a much closer dialogue on the interaction between the systems and the institutions dealing with human rights and drug control. If, in Geneva, human rights bodies discuss drug control, it would be helpful to invite INCB. There’s a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of miscommunication. If I stayed in my post for longer, I would reinforce the dialogue between these spheres. To come back to your question, there are in fact some contradictions. The 1961 Convention recognises the existence of traditional uses (Art. 49), but it then says coca should be abolished. The Convention of 1988 (Art. 14, para 2) says measures adopted should respect human rights. The same Convention says it cannot derogate the provisions in 1961. I don’t know how to solve this but we must talk about it. The OHCHR said that it “should” be allowed, not “must” be allowed. In the current state of drug control legislation, that is not possible. It is an invitation to solve this problem. The 1961 Convention also takes into account the traditional and religious uses, but it set a 20-year deadline…

Question 3 (Veterans for Medical Cannabis): A recent report says cannabis can be used medically. What is the INCB doing to ensure access to the medicinal uses of cannabis? I ask this question in the framework of the current pre-review engaged by the WHO.

Werner Sipp, INCB: The ECDD has the responsibility to report on the medicinal properties of controlled substances. We tell Member States that they’re obliged to guarantee access to medical substances. If WHO says cannabis has such properties, then we will have no problem to accept medical access where appropriate. Ultimately, however, countries are free to decide which substances are considered medicinal. If a country considers it medicinal, then we will support facilitating access. Of course, controlled substances that are medicines need to abide by certain administrative requirements.

Question 3 (Marie Nougier, IDPC): The INCB recently provided guidance on the fact that decriminalisation and proportionality are within the framework of the Conventions. Can you produce a statement supporting these practices and how to translate these options into practice?

Werner Sipp, INCB: We made Chapter 1 of the Annual Report of 2007 on this issue. Proportionality is at the cornerstone of the system. A system without proportionality undermines the Convention. Also, the Conventions offer alternatives to conviction and punishment. Treatment is meant in a very large sense. It’s not only medical, it’s assistance too. I have been called to present at an event in the framework of the UNGASS. Tomorrow, we organise an event on proportionality. We have repeatedly explained this issue to the public

Question 4 (San Patrigiano): Regarding proportionality and alternative sentencing. These provisions are allowed within the Conventions and clearly stated. But globally there is a big concern about dis-proportionality and extra-judicial killings. I ask all relevant bodies to urge Member States to respect human rights.

Werner Sipp, INCB: We have regularly discussed models that are framed within the Conventions and respond to your concerns. For instance, the Portuguese model. We cannot tell governments to apply the same, but to explore options in the same vein that respond to their realities. We have also insisted that the Conventions are silent on the death penalty; however, there are international statements from human rights bodies and the Secretary General that discuss the compliance of this practice with other instruments. We regularly ask Member States to consider what these bodies are saying. And we remind this in our reports. Another situation is the Philippines. We had a press release in August 2016; even before human rights bodies. Policies that target people who are suspected of committing drug offences, like the practice of exhorting the population to kill offenders, is clearly not in line with the Conventions. Governments must react within rules and procedures.

Question 5 (Proyecto Hombre): The Board recently expressed itself on the proliferation of cannabis social clubs. Spain remains a high-prevalence countries and an entry point for cannabis into Europe. How can the INCB exhort the Spanish government to respond to this situation within the Conventions? How can civil society help bring together the government’s position and cannabis clubs’ position?

Werner Sipp, INCB: The government has explained the number of cannabis clubs has reduced. We cannot tell them to do concrete things. The Government of Spain has expressed commitment to solve the problems and inform INCB. Next year, we will report on developments in this sense.

Question 5 (ICEERS): The INCB dedicated more space in its recent report to admonishment against cannabis clubs and legalisation. Cannabis clubs are a response to a decriminalised legal framework. There’s a contradiction in your statement, thus, because the report advocates for decriminalisation. One of the legal fundamentals of cannabis clubs is that in Spain, use is decriminalised. How can you advocate for decriminalisation and be against cannabis clubs?

Werner Sipp, INCB: The US situation does concern the INCB very much. The recent vote in November will have a clear impact. There is a big misunderstanding on the notion of decriminalisation. Cannabis clubs is not decriminalisation, it aims to regulate. The Conventions say that the use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances outside of the medical/scientific purposes is a punishable offence. How to respond to this? Sanctions. Which sanctions? Principle of proportionality; if it’s minor, then you can not punish at all or find alternatives. Cannabis clubs try to regulate the non-medical use. What you call decriminalisation, I call flexibility to criminal behaviour. You must respond to the behaviour, but not with incarceration.

Question 6 (Marco Perduca): What is INCB doing to promote scientific research on controlled substances?

Werner Sipp, INCB: INCB encourages the scientific world to do research.

INCB: We approve estimates in terms of production for medical and scientific purposes. We enable governments when they indicate to the Board that they aim to conduct research. We have consistently approved those estimates.

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