UN Development Chief: Drug Criminalization Creates More Problems Than It Solves

Helen Clark

United Nations Development Program Chief Helen Clark lamented the failure of the war on drugs this week, previewing a UNDP Human Development report that calls for  redrawing the battle lines in the drug war to better incorporate the voices of Latin American countries. Clark, who has been prime minister of New Zealand and a Health Minister, said she preferred to treat drugs as a health, rather than a criminal justice problem:

I’ve been a health minister in my past and there’s no doubt that the health position would be to treat the issue of drugs as primarily a health and social issue rather than a criminalised issue,” Clark told Reuters in an interview. […]

To deal with drugs as a one-dimensional, law-and-order issue is to miss the point,” Clark said. She stopped short of calling for outright legalisation, but said the focus should be on keeping illegal profits out of criminal hands.

“We have waves of violent crime sustained by drug trade, so we have to take the money out of drugs,” she said.

One of the arguments for legalising drugs is that it would take away a key source of revenue for traffickers.

“The countries in the region that have been ravaged by the armed violence associated with drug cartels are starting to think laterally about a broad range of approaches and they should be encouraged to do that,” said Clark.

“They should act on evidence,” she added.

Clark’s statement comes as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meets in Vienna this week. During the meeting, International Narcotics Control Board President Raymond Yans reiterated his recent assertion that allowing for the recreational use of cannabis “would be a violation of international law,” although he does not explain what “allowing for” means since marijuana is still federally illegal. He had previously warned that the laws send the wrong message and that the federal government should do whatever necessary to ensure compliance with international drug treaties, including the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. That 50-year-old treaty tasks countries with implementing a system for limiting the use of marijuana and other drugs classified as “Schedule I,” but has no strong mechanisms for enforcement. In December, the United Nations agreed to hold a summit in 2016 devoted to reconsidering global drug policy.