Most of us predicted a dull Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) this year, but it turned out to be surprisingly eventful – a pleasant surprise for veterans, if still frustratingly opaque for those looking for open and vibrant debate.

There was the usual procession of countries that  listed their national policies in excruciating detail – primarily numbers of arrests and seizures – but it was notable that a growing number gave prominence to showing off their efforts in the field of demand and harm reduction. Also routine was the vocal resistance of the Russian delegation to anything related to harm reduction or tolerance towards people who use drugs (including the clearly incorrect claim that methadone is not a medicine), and the efforts of some member states and officials to stifle debates – in particular the right of NGOs to speak in the official proceedings.

On the other hand, I think I detected a definite change of tone in much of the discourse – many Asian and Latin American delegations issued statements that signalled a move away from repressive policies to more health promotion and social development, and significant positions were taken by:

  • The USA, whose statement expressed regret at previous administrations' overuse of punishment to reduce demand, and emphasised treatment and support for drug users.
  • The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, who moved beyond their long stated support for harm reduction, to make a clear call for an end to criminalisation and punishment of drug users.
  • The Czech Republic, whose statement clearly called for a fundamental review of global policy, and supported the conclusions of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

We at IDPC also noticed a much greater level of interest from government delegations (including many from Asia and Latin America) in attending NGO events, and receiving materials on alternative strategies. There is clearly an increasing momentum for at least considering more humane and effective approaches – many powerful interests will continue to resist this process, but the taboo is clearly broken, even in the dusty corridors of Vienna.

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