Despite its unprecedented nature within the history of the international drug control regime, and regardless of warnings to the contrary, the Plurinational State of Bolivia’s withdrawal from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs on 1 January 2012 did not result in a collapse of the United Nations (UN) based control system. That said, there is a strong case that, although marking the centenary of the regime, 2012 will be seen as the beginning of the end of the treaty system in its present form and the re-structuring of a policy world apparently so cherished by many members of the International Narcotics Control Board.
In November last year, following democratic ballot initiatives, two US states began moves to establish regulated markets for cannabis. And, amidst high-level debates within Latin America concerning a review of the current control paradigm, at the same time as events with the US, the elected government within Uruguay began serious consideration of a similar regulated approach to the non-medical and non-scientific use of drugs at a national level; a process that is now well on its way to becoming law. Individually these moves are significant. Combined, they represent the most momentous challenge the modern treaty framework has faced. With this as a backdrop, the tone and content of the Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2012 tells us much about how the Board is looking to operate within such a dynamic, challenging and, for the Board, apparently threatening environment. It is also informative in terms of the approach taken by the INCB’s new President and how, if at all, it differs from that of his predecessor Professor Hamid Ghodse, to whose memory the Report is dedicated.
The publication once again presents an impressive amount of technical information on the state and functioning of the international drug control system; a system constructed with the aim of managing the global licit market for narcotic and psychotropic substances for medical and research purposes while simultaneously suppressing the illicit market. The Report consequently makes some valuable contributions on many issue areas, including – in some respects – with regard to the phenomena of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), internet pharmacies and the illicit use of prescription medicines. Additionally, it is useful as a record of the progress of parties to the drug control conventions relative to resolutions made within the Commission of Narcotic Drugs (CND or Commission). Unfortunately, the Report also reflects the Board’s ongoing habit of exceeding its mandate, particularly this year in terms of generating what can be called ‘narratives of conformity’; a process that, as will be demonstrated here, is prominent within the President’s foreword and this year’s thematic chapter. Moreover, it reveals the continuation of an unwillingness to comment on other important issues that appear to be within the Board’s purview and warrant its attention.
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