Moderator: Penny Hill, Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs
Speaker: Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: I am please to meet with you today. The board recognises the important role played by civil society in recognising health and wellbeing. INCB is committed to ongoing cooperation with NGOs including this informal dialogue, meetings during the country missions and the boards may session. Situation around Covid-19 pandemic has allowed INCB to resume its country’s missions. Thanks to the efforts of the VNGOC in providing the board with a list of those members in the countries. In may the discussion will be focused on the role of the internet including social media in trafficking and use. INCB looks forward to hearing from NGOs in this important area, to take into account for the 2023 report. ? and pre-cursors report published last week, like to acknowledge the VNGOC for coordinating responses to the survey on availability. The report notes some progress has been made, but availability of controlled substances remains inequitable and inaccessible. Cannabis was the focus of the thematic chapter on this years report. INCB encourages civil society organisations to take those conclusions and recommendations when planning their work.
1. Sudanese Green Crescent Society, Sudan, Rudwan Yahya Ibrahim Abdalla
How can we, as NGOs, share our experiences, activities and knowledge with INCB in order to gain more insight into the situation in our countries?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: As you know since adoption of 61 convention the role of civil society in helping to promote a balanced policy has grown exponentially. Members of int community e.g. states have come to realise the immense contribution made by civil society in forming drug policy through their sharing of experience and knowledge from their unique perspective. The board has a variety of mechanisms to facilitate interaction with civil society groups to exchange perspectives and listen to your concerns. This very forum is born out of the bords desire to engage with NGOs for meaningful dialogue. The board conducts its countries missions an essential part of agenda is engaging with NGOs, it reaches out to VNGOC to identify civil society groups. We then liaise directly where NGOs can meet us and lay out their concerns in the ambit of the boards work. All meetings are held confidentially without the government. The inputs from civil society groups are taken into account in the boards consideration of the country in question and are instrumental in the recommendations to be implemented. We would welcome any suggestion son how to engage with civil society and get your input. You can write to the board and express your issues so that we can take it into consideration in the face to face consultations.
2. IFSW, Austria, Silvia Franke
Can INCB please provide an update on the latest developments and discussions around the emergence of regulated, legal cannabis markets around the world?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: We released the report only last week on 09/03 so I don’t understand what update you are looking for as things evolve over time. We will keep a close eye on this area. We have devoted thematic chapter to this on 2022 report, this shows that we are concerned about this new phenomenon and we have highlighted that in line with 61 convention, countries have committed to prohibiting substances to scientific and medical purposes only. That is the parameter that governments are committed to work. The board considers the extension of this to nonmedical or scientific use to be against the convention. We believe this carries a whole stock of consequences for public health, increased use among youth, decreased perceptions of health, increased potency and new means of ingestion such as edibles and vaping designed to appear to youth. Weakening of drug trafficking syndicates (audible) the board also acknowledges the disproportionate act of criminalisation to minority groups. It recommends states to apply alternative measures to conviction to offences of less gravity to those who use drugs. Proportionality is extremely important and in 2022 report we have highlighted decriminalisation for personal use which governments are looking into and have introduced into their legislation. The board is not averse to treating the user of drugs as a victim instead of someone to be treated with penal measures.
3. Association Proyecto Hombre, Spain, Oriol Esculies (International Commissioner)
From the perspective of its monitoring role, to what extent do INCB consider that member states are complying to implement and promote effective drug prevention measures to provide early intervention to children and youth that are more vulnerable to the impacts of drug use?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: I would like to draw your attention to art.38 or the 61 convention – parties shall give special attention to the prevention of use of drugs, early identification and social reintegration… you can see the entire responsibility lies on the states themselves. However, INCB’s role to constantly highlight this issue and try to encourage member states that we are putting in place measures and regulations to meet this end. So long as people continue to be affected by drug use, there will be no such thing as too much prevention. It is an ongoing process. The need to implement prevention strategies for target populations is one that the board continues to prioritise, not only as a treaty obligation but a desired public health outcome to safeguard human kind. While it is difficult to actually gauge the harms to human life, estimates of the financial benefits related to prevention show that every 1 dollar spent on prevention can save up to 10 dollars in future costs. In many states drug control continues to be categorised by insufficient investments, especially aimed at children and youth. The board continues to emphasise the importance of prevention initiatives and the engagement of civil society groups to strengthen the prevention mechanisms at the community level. The Japanese government had a side event the other day about that more needs to be done about improving prevention and reducing demand. Being a law enforcement officer I have participated at heads of narcotic enforcement meetings, there are 1 or 2 small paragraphs of treatment rehabilitation. In my 15 years of working in this area there is a gap in the dialogue in this area, I proposed to Japanese government to prepare annual workshops or meetings to involve the civil society, NGOs and youth to spread the message of how bad drug abuse is for the health of their citizens. I understand the Japanese government is willing to launch this new program. This will serve as a reservoir for good practice so we can benefit from what other people are doing. At the moment we are all in our siloes, we are working alone and there is no cross connection.
4. Students for Sensible Drug Policy, United States, Iulia Cristiana Vatau
In chapter III section A2 of the 2021 INCB report, social media exposure is discussed as a significant influence on non-medical drug use, and the INCB suggests investing in drug prevention programs that make use of social media. What efforts have INCB made to investigate and promote the use of social media platforms for the purpose of sharing life-saving and harm reducing drug education information?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: I’d like to preface my reply by saying that these programs to be advertised on social media would be definitely the responsibility of the member states and institution in the country. But the INCB stands behind already these kinds of measures and that’s why we already highlighted the social media affects and publishing of harmful information to encourage partake in drugs and videos showing how to make heroin and methamphetamine because these media are not policed properly. The INCB is entering into a dialogue, we have the participation of governments in these forums, it will take time for the results to be shown. The main point in our last report about social media being a bad influence, we recommended it can also be used for a positive role. NGOs and civil society play an important role in this. So this is an untapped potential and we will keep a very close eye on this and in order to explore this topic in greater detail, the board has dedicated to decide the thematic chapter of 2023 to the topic of internet, social media in drug control and prevention. This will be the topic of our May meeting so we look forward to hearing your suggestions.
5. Movendi International, Sweden, Esbjörn Hörnberg
How can the INCB use the mandate, space and power of the conventions to protect countries’ policy making process from interference by the alcohol, tobacco and cannabis industries?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: Thank you for the very provocative question. They are a law unto themselves, if they had public policy and health in mind they wouldn’t be doing this thing. There is significant lobbying by the alcohol, tobacco industries for legalisation of controlled substances for non-medical purposes. The board has continued to impress upon states that according to the int drug control framework, the use and control of substances is strictly for medical and scientific purposes. Any steps to advance this would constitute a violation of the state’s international treaty obligations. We have shared our observations that in many cases, the potential tax revenue was grossly overstated and offset by the costs of legalization and public health outcomes. We are watching the situation very carefully but we do not have a direct role, we can only make recommendations and try and make member states not proceed in this direction.
6. MENANPUD, Pakistan, Zeeshan Ayyaz
It is well established that opioid substitute therapy can save lives, but how can INCB further promote and facilitate its use in countries such as Pakistan?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: The board notes that all state parties have a legal obligation to take all practical measures to prevent misuse of drugs as laid down in art.38 of the 1961 conventions and similar obligations stemming from 1971 and 1988 conventions. However I would like to reiterate it remains the provocative of the state to choose its treatment options which the board cannot really interfere with. Many governments implement OAT as one of the forms of medical treatment where it is prescribed by a medical doctor. The board considers this as entirely consistent with the conventions. In our 2022 report we referred to these programs in our supplement – no patient left behind to encourage governments to use methadone for treatment of opioid dependence. INCB has over the years and in line with its mandate in the 61 convention, discussed and confirmed estimates and assessments of controlled quantities governments have needed in this manner. We are definitely supporting this treatment but it is for member states to decide and also to seek estimates of these substances.
7. International Drug Policy Consortium, United Kingdom (global), Marie Nougier
Civil Society Forum on Drugs in the EU, European Union, Adria Cots Fernandez
Open Society Foundations, United States, Matthew Wilson
Could the INCB explain how the decision is made regarding which NGOs and community-based organisations it will meet during its country visits, and how this could be better communicated? For example, which NGOs did the Board meet in their recent mission to the USA, and how could INCB improve this engagement?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: I have already actually answered this question but I will repeat it. INCB has a broad mission – we reach out to VNGOC who will give us a list of names working in that country. Depending on our program, time and their availability we select 2 to 3 NGOs to meet during the mission. I cannot divulge the names of the NGOs we met for their own safety and security because they cannot give us input about what’s actually happening in the country. We hear the official view but we want to hear the unofficial view so they are not targeted by the government for having said something about the system. We go through VNGOC, we do not do any selection on our own. Anyone with the VNGOC that is registered.
8. POW420, USA, Dennis James Boisvert
Has the INCB produced, or does it plan to produce, any guidance regarding asset forfeiture to ensure that such measures are implemented in a just and reasonable way?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: The board has not produced any guidance on asset forfeiture as such but we did dedicate a thematic chapter of 2021 report to illicit financial flows relating to trafficking and the impact on development and security. A variety of recommendation were put forward for governments. As a supplement I would like to say, I had the privilege of working for asset forfeiture for my government. The 1988 convention talks of asset forfeiture. When a trafficker is caught, their assets are frozen and they do a net worth analysis. If the income does not match with the assets, then it shows that the assets have been acquired through criminal proceeds. Then a hearing is given where the person is given a right to defend themselves. After forfeiture, there are certain problems which arise such as what do you do with a boat or aeroplane. If you lose the case against the drug trafficker, some countries have put in their legislation that the value will be given back to the defendant.
9. International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (ICEERS), Spain, Maja Kohek
The coca plant is recognised as cultural heritage in the countries of origin but considered a scheduled substance in the rest of the world. Many people from the Andes, who live in other countries, wish to continue using coca as an expression of their culture and social practices. How can INCB ensure that the human and cultural rights of migrants are respected, when people are travelling or living outside of their country of origin where the coca plant is considered cultural heritage?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: I draw your attention to a booklet we have released regarding what travellers should have on them in relation to controlled substances. But I do not think coca will be relevant as you have to have a prescription. I can draw your attention to coca leaf as it is defined in the 61 convention, listed in Schedule 1 which is addictive and liable to abuse. This is a general obligation to limit exclusively to medical and scientific purposes. So if you look at this definition as of today, I do not think you can carry it with you because it is not protected under the convention. Article 49 had been put in the 69 convention with a 25 year window. After 25 years these prohibition has lapsed. After, no one has tried to open up this issue but we did have one or two countries raise this again. It has to be prescribed, and we do not have coca leaf prescriptions. Considering that this 25 year has lapsed, traditional use of coca is not permitted under the convention apart from the state of Bolivia who withdrew from the convention with a reservation for the coca leaf in its natural state for cultural and medicinal purposes. There are certain rules and regulations to monitor this, it is not unlimited. We have to remember that the coca leaf is used ultimately to make coca paste, and then cocaine. Cocaine production is now moving to Europe for manufacture of cocaine. That is being evaluated by CND and WHO, a review has to be done. It is being asked for, maybe in the future there will be such things.
10. Virginians Against Drug Violence, United States of America, Michael Krawitz
It has been our observation that the lack of legal regulated access to cannabis has created market space for, potentially very dangerous, synthetic products. With regard to purely synthetic cannabinoids [not from plant material], what does the 1971 treaty say about how to control these? How can we make it clear that these substances are neither related to cannabis or plant material?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: The international community ahs seen an increase in synthetic cannabinoids being controlled under the convention. These decisions are taken by the CND including a recommendation by the WHO. The 1971 convention does not distinguish between a substance derived from plant or synthetic origin. This means any substance, natural or synthetic or any material in schedule 1, 2, 3 or 4. Once a synthetic cannabinoid is placed in any of the 4 schedules, it is considered controlled. States have an obligation have a limit to keep this to only medical or scientific purposes only.
11. EURAD, Belgium, Stig Erik Sørheim
Some countries are now proposing drug policy reforms, including the legalization of controlled drugs as part of pilot studies with scientific follow up. How does the INCB view these initiatives in light of the international drug conventions?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: The board has taken note of the adoption of consideration by some states affecting legal measures in particular cannabis for non-medical purposes which create a regulated market. I would like to reiterate the 61 convention established in article 4 general obligations that parties need to take measures necessary within their own territories to limit to medical and scientific use. The control of substances is the fundamental principle that lies at the international drug control framework and allows no exception. So INCB will continue to remind all states that in recognition of the public health risks, cannabis has been suggested to the highest levels of control under the treaties. Furthermore THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis are classified as psychotropic substances under schedule 1 and 2 of the convention. There is a procedure laid down in the convention that if you want to get a critical evaluation from the WHO you can have a debate at the CND. If countries are doing it at their own level that does not fall within the ambit of the convention. Countries are experimenting to see that if the decision they take is helpful or not.
12. Youth RISE, Ireland (but International), Ruby Lawlor
We are seeing more and more policy reforms that include the expungement of related existing criminal records. Are INCB planning to support or guide these initiatives in any way, to better support young people living with criminal records?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: States have an obligation under the conventions to establish certain behaviours as punishable offences. I emphasise the word serious in serious offences in terms of whether punishment is appropriate. Punishment should be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility having committed it. The 61 convention and the 71 convention and the 88 convention, states are not obliged to adopt punitive responses for minor drug related offences including small possession of drugs for people who use drugs. INCB continuously encourages states to consider adopting a non punitive response. The conventions offer the possibilities of alternative to punishment such as rehab, care etc. states should only use serious penalties such as trafficking. There is no obligation stemming from the conventions to incarcerate drug users who commit minor offences. The board notes the decision to adopt alternatives to punishment for minor offences. Proportionality must continue to act as a guiding principle. In 2022 this has been reiterated and that adoption of alternative measures many constitute an integral part of a balanced drug policy. While it is a public policy choice for the individual country, it is in line with this approach.
13. bufete hh, Costa Rica, Douglas Fernando Herrera Hernandez
What kind of sanctions has the INCB imposed on countries that have legalized the use of both medicinal and recreational cannabis?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: I have already pointed out that we can only use these substances for medical and scientific purposes as per the convention. Definitely we are monitoring what countries are doing in this regard. Article 14 of the 61 convention and article 19 of the 71 convention give the board powers to have a confidential dialogue with these countries. After we come to a conclusion of detailed analysis, we have the option of recommending to the ECOSOC and the CND that action should be taken and we feel an flagrant violation of the conventions and then its left to CND to debate any action. Embargoes on controlled substances can take place. Article 14 has been invoked on Afghanistan where we ask the international community to provide relief and aid where the people are suffering from a mix of problems. Apart from that we have not invoked that article on any country. It doesn’t mean we aren’t working on it, we are.
14. Fields of Green for ALL NPC, South Africa, Myrtle Clarke
FAAAT, FRANCE, FARID GHEHIOUECHE
What is the procedure in place for the handling of data reported by State Parties in Form C part II-B on the amount of cannabis for non-medical or non-scientific purposes traded in their legal industry, and the publication of these data in INCB’s annual reports? Are there specific procedures for the collection and publication of data reported under Article 2(9)(b) of the Single Convention?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: The conventions require reporting on controlled substances including cannabis. Under the 61 convention and 1971 convention, THC have to be reported. Countries are required to report the licit production for medical and scientific purposes. There are some exceptions in relation to cannabis e.g. art.28 – this will not apply to cannabis plant for industrial processes e.g. horticulture, fibre etc. the word hemp is not mentioned. The only controlled substance is coca leaf that is used for other purposes. The issue regarding reporting we have been having stakeholder meetings with the member states. some member states feel that CBD is not controlled by the conventions, but we feel that CBD is an extract of the cannabis plant. Until that issue is resolved with consensus, it will remain so. We heard from some member states that it is difficult to report CBD because they don’t think it is controlled. Some say the threshold is 0.2% and others 0.3% – we need to decide. Pure CBD also has psychoactive content. Even if we assume that they have no psychoactive content how are we going to determine that it doesn’t have psychoactive content. Is there going to be a regulation or certification about that? Until these issues are thrashed out this is a grey area. We had a meeting yesterday about the forms. We are trying to work around it.
15. Veterans Action Council, United States, Etienne Fontan
Internationally, hemp is defined differently by law, is considered important in international trade, and is exempt from treaty control. Modern scientific processes have increased interest in cannabinoids derived from hemp, such as CBD. Do these products fall under treaty control or are they the responsibility of industry stakeholders?
Jagjit Pavadia, INCB President: I have already answered this but industries are not responsible, it is the countries.