As in previous years, the 2008 Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) contains a wealth of technical information on the operation of the international drug control system that attempts to manage the global licit market for narcotic and psychotropic substances for medical and research uses while simultaneously stifling the illicit market. Interspersed with these operational descriptions are references and discussions on certain policy issues – primarily observations on the strengths and weaknesses of the system and what the INCB considers the main risks and threats to the effectiveness of that system. While much of this data and debate is a welcome contribution to the policy process, the IDPC continues to be troubled with the selective and subjective nature of the INCB’s concerns; concerns that do not seem to flow from a balanced assessment of what constitutes non-compliance with the UN drug control conventions.
In this response to the Annual Report attention is given to the INCB’s analysis of a number of inter-connected issues, including the history of the drug control system and on its positions on three contemporary debates – harm reduction, the search for effective cannabis control, and the Bolivian request for reconsideration of the status of the coca leaf. The response concludes that the INCB continues to be quick to condemn what it sees as any move towards liberalisation of policy and practice, while ignoring clear breaches of the spirit and letter of the conventions that arise from repressive policy in many countries. Recognizing that the INCB has a crucial role to play within a global control system that is fit for purpose in the 21st century, it is argued that the Board will need to make significant changes to both its perspectives and operating procedures if it is to gain the confidence of many civil society and government stakeholders in the future.