The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB or Board) Annual Report for 2016 is, as usual, a mixed bag of high quality data and sometimes doubtful political views. It is the final Report of the Presidency of Mr. Werner Sipp, and as such represents a comparatively progressive text, in contrast to many previous Reports. Despite this, the general – if ambivalent – acceptance of medical uses of internationally controlled drugs is contrasted by the Board’s continuing defence of the conventions in their current form and their opposition to any non-medical use.

Key points

  • The INCB Annual Report for 2016 is contextualised by that year’s United Nations Special Session of the General Assembly (UNGASS) on the ‘world drug problem’. As such, 2016 represents an unprecedented period of flux, as the drug control consensus that has lasted several decades continues to crack at the seams, and to reach new depths despite the surface unity.
  • There are some important new or recent positions included in the Report. Amongst the most significant is the continuation of the INCB to encourage states that retain the death penalty for drug-related offences to abolish the practice.
  • The Board also condemns outright the government of the Philippines for its implication in the extrajudicial killings of those involved in the country’s drugs trade, or those suspected of being so involved.
  • This year’s thematic chapter features a discussion on the issue of women and drugs, an important issue that has long received little of the attention it requires. The chapter explores issues including the growing incarceration of women for drug offences, which is increasing more rapidly than that of men.
  • The Annual Report is characterised by reticence when it comes to positive and progressive developments, a continuing trend in the INCB’ reports. For example, the concerns of the Board that controlled medicines are prone to diversion, rather than their vital therapeutic properties, tend to be given priority in terms of attention. Similarly, those countries having developed or scaled up harm reduction interventions are neither encouraged nor highlighted as models to be followed.
  • A similar tendency may be discerned with respect to cannabis. Whether real or imagined, the negative elements of cannabis are emphasised at the expense of the possible benefits of the substance. Moreover, the potential contravention of the international treaties is stressed alongside the harmful health effects – ironic since public health is the driving force behind many countries’ movement toward regulated markets.
  • For the first time, the INCB acknowledges that drug consumption rooms can be lawful under the international conventions, though to do so they must aim at effectively reducing the negative compact of drug use and lead to treatment and rehabilitation. Moreover, they must not condone or encourage drug use or trafficking.

Previous reports in this series: