CICAD 66: A setback in drug policy in the Western Hemisphere

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CICAD 66: A setback in drug policy in the Western Hemisphere

6 January 2020

By Lisa Sánchez and Víctor Gutiérrez
(Mexico United Against Crime - MUCD)

Between 19 - 21 November 2019, the sixty-sixth regular session of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), an OAS advisory body, was held in the city of Miami, Florida. This would usually not be noteworthy news, however on this last occasion we identified important setbacks that contrasted with the slow but constant progress that we had registered in the civil society space in the Forum since 2014.

Since then, CICAD's regular sessions had experienced an unprecedented openness to emerging issues and those traditionally excluded from the government agenda such as Human Rights in the framework of international drug control, legal cannabis regulation, harm reduction at festivals and the implementation of the operational recommendations of UNGASS 2016. However, on this occasion, things had changed and it became very clear that the position of the organisation had returned to the default of the supply and demand reduction, as if in more than six terms they would not have discussed anything else.

What changed? In macro terms, the political pendulum and the leadership of the commission - which went from countries with less punitive visions like Bahamas and Mexico to others with a tougher line in the United States. In micro terms, the non-maintenance of recently acquired practices where the significant involvement of civil society was allowed in the planning and execution of a panel with topics and speakers that complemented the official agenda and were brought from all corners of the continent without the economic support of States or the Commission.

Because of this loss of collaboration schemes in favor of the traditional forms of States that invite their civil society, this meeting witnessed the return of national discussions and practices that point towards criminalization and stigmatization, as well as punitiveness against people who use drugs, lack of treatment services, the persistence of compulsory and forced treatments and the militarization of drug control.

A clear example of this situation is the renewed centrality of drug courts on the Commission's agenda, which in previous years had been blurred in favor of other alternative measures that could be activated even before the judicialization of cases and which had the potential to break the vicious circle between drug use and the criminal justice system.

In this regard, remember that in previous forums there were panels dedicated exclusively to regional efforts to implement and follow up on the operational recommendations of UNGASS, where emphasis was placed on human rights, development, harm reduction and even the promotion of alternatives such as the effective decriminalization of drug possession for personal use- visions that were ignored during the exposition of the panels on this occasion.

Another example of the regression that occurred during this sixtieth regular session of CICAD was the total forgetfulness of civil society interventions, which at the time allowed visualizing such sensitive issues as access to prevention, treatment and care services in HIV aimed at drug users, the generation of scientific evidence for drug policy formulation abandoning traditional criminalizing discourse, and the exposition of lessons learned as a result of local intervention from civil society with people who use drugs.

As a consequence of this landscape, we denounced through a declaration of civil society on behalf of United Mexico Against Crime (MUCD), of the Center for Law, Justice and Society Studies - Dejusticia, Intercambios Civil Association, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), the absence of a space to share lessons learned from civil society. We are saddened that, on this occasion, the forum was lost to know experiences, actions and research that are generated from this space. Therefore, we made a respectful call for the diversity of voices to be included in the next meetings held by CICAD.