At the reconvened 58th CND in Vienna, a number of side events were held on 9th December 2015, including 'Public health as a basis for drug policy in Portugal'. Portuguese government officials spoke at the event, alongside Wolfgang Gotz, Director of European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction and Werner Sipp, President of the International Narcotics Control Board.
The Permanent Representative of Portugal, Pedro Moitinho de Almeida, opened discussions by explaining that the Portuguese policy model is no longer an experiment; instead, it is a success. A decade ago, drugs ranked at the top of the country's problems. As a result of the policies implemented, and the courage of the government to shift from a law enforcement focus to one that centres on public health, this is no longer the case.
The Portuguese officials spoke of the originally hostile approach of the UN system toward its decriminalisation; however, since 2009 the World Drug Report was no longer critical. Portugal's system included 'dissuasion panels', with possession falling within administrative law rather than criminal law. In addition, housing, social support and care are addressed: the Portuguese government stresses than the model is not simply one of decriminalisation.
The final speaker was Mr Sipp of the INCB. He remarked on the innovative character of Portugal's Law 30/2000, but added that it was not unique, with non-criminal responses to small amounts of drugs for personal use in many other countries in Europe and South America. He argued that what is unique about the system is the use of the Dissuasion Commissions. Mr Sipp also stated that it is not a system of 'legalisation': non-medical use remains prohibited, though instances are not punished by the criminal law. Therefore, the Board has acknowledged that Portugal is fully committed to the objectives of the drug control treaties.
After elaborating the place of Portugal's policies within the place of the drug control conventions, the INCB President concluded by saying that it can be considered a model of best practice as the UNGASS approaches. The policy is fully committed to the principles of the conventions, having health and welfare at its core and applying a balanced, comprehensive and integrated approach. Based on the principle of proportionality and respect for human rights, it can show positive results without going outside the present drug control system or legalising the use of drugs.
It is a positive response to the policy response in Portugal, which was at one time viewed highly skeptically by the INCB. Nonetheless, there are a great number of nation states around the world where the example of Portugal is remote, and where authoritarian drug policies show no sign of changing. The inclusion in the drug control treaties of an explicit permission for countries to exercise more restrictive policy options than those outlined by the drug control treaties does nothing to improve the lives of people who use drugs. Provisions such as these (Article 39 of the 1961 Convention, Article 23 of the 1971 Convention) are in direct contradiction to the public health orientation the UN is currently attempting to strengthen.
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