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March 02, 2017

The INCB Annual Report 2016: A significant shift on drug consumption rooms

Drug Consumption Room Espace Gaia in Paris

The international drug control conventions require the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to publish an annual report which provides an analysis of world drug situation. The 2016 Report has been launched today.

The Board’s President, Mr Werner Sipp, provides a Foreword to the document, which will represent the final Annual Report to appear under his watch, which ends later this year. The Report carries the tone of Mr Sipp’s Presidency, one of the most progressive of figures to have led the INCB. This is despite the fact that the Board has continued to provide strong support for the international drug control conventions as the foundation of the international community’s response to both the medical and scientific use of drugs and the attempt to control non-medical consumption and supply.

The most significant and progressive move made by the Board in this year’s Report is its changing position with respect to Drug Consumption Rooms (DCRs). In the past, the INCB has repeatedly – and often in strident terms – criticised these facilities as counter to the provisions of the international drug control conventions. While continuing to express its reservations regarding the consumption of drugs purchased outside the DCRs, the INCB acknowledges the dialogue it has shared with the Government of Denmark, which has introduced national legislation that forms the foundation for DCRs. Similar measures have been taken in France. The Board observes that: ‘“Drug consumption rooms” must be operated within a framework that offers treatment and rehabilitation services as well as social reintegration measures, either directly or by active referral for access, and must not be a substitute for demand reduction programmes, in particular prevention and treatment activities.’

As ever, the Report contains a thematic chapter on a specialised topic, on this occasion ‘Women and Drugs’. The chapter deals with the specificity of women’s relationships with drug use; violence, sex-workers, pregnancy and children, mental illness, imprisonment, barriers to access to treatment for women, as well as recommending measures that governments should adopt to improve the situation. The last of these recommendations states that: ‘INCB encourages Governments to take into consideration the specific needs and circumstances of women subject to arrest, detention, prosecution, trial or the implementation of a sentence for drug-related offences, including appropriate measures to bring to justice perpetrators of abuse of women in custody or in prison settings for drug-related offences.’

The INCB Annual Report 2016 A significant shift on drug consumption rooms

Another topic explored by Chapter 11 is the possible impact of legislation permitting the non-medical or recreational use of cannabis. A number of member states receive advice in this regard, though not of the strident kind associated with several former Presidents. Canada is addressed by the Board as a country that plans to legalise and regulate the use of non-medical cannabis use. The INCB reminds the Canadian authorities that such use of cannabis is inconsistent with the provisions with the 1961 and 1988 Conventions. It advised Canada to reach its health objectives, the protection of young people and non-prosecution of minor, non-violent offences through means that do not violate the existing conventions.

The Annual Report mentions harm reduction without the use of either ‘scare quotes’ or a social context that casts a dubious light upon the concept. This again reflects positively on the leadership of Werner Sipp. The key problem with what is overall a useful Report lies in its continuing refusal to consider reforms to the conventions, which, in the long run, are going to be necessary components in declaring peace in the century-old battle against the use of drugs.

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