In recent years, many countries have taken steps in pushing for drug policy reforms, one focus being part of the larger health centred agenda. This is putting health and community safety first as a fundamental reorientation of policy priorities from failed punitive enforcement to proven health and social interventions.
From 19 to 21 April, there will be a United Nations General Assembly Special Session (Ungass) in New York dedicated to the issue of drug policy. This Ungass on drugs has the potential to be a ground breaking for open debate about the international drug control system.
Ungass will be an important opportunity to properly and honestly asses the successes and failures of global drug policies that have been implemented over the past 50 years. This dialogue is surely needed but getting a drug policy right is a task which requires political courage and leadership to ensure an honest, inclusive and open debate.
Around the globe, countries approach drug policy in radically different ways. Some, such as China and various Muslims countries, have draconian prison sentences and even execution. While at the other end, we have Netherlands which has long been perceived as leading the way in drug liberalisation and has long maintained a drug tolerant culture.
In the 1980s, the global policy trend was towards harsher criminalisation approaches. But in recent years, drug policy makers have attempted to formulate policy recommendations that best manage drug related problems exclusively on empirical grounds, and there are signs that countries in every region are reversing the course.
The Ungass 2016 must be an opportunity to address the failure of the drug control system to ensure adequate access to controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes which is a core obligation under the United Nations drug conventions.
Encouragingly, Malawi has moved into research on how we can utilise hemp either for medical or scientific purpose and benefit economically. Pursuing research on our hemp does not mean legalising.
Our government like many others must move the discussion of drug policy reform forward by calling for more relevant objectives and measurable indicators. Moving the drug policy away from process measures such as just focus on crop eradication, arrests, drug seizers and imprisonment.
New ways need to be explored that focus on the impact on health, security and development and these could cover the following:
lPublic health, harm reduction and well-being. reduce drug related deaths, increased coverage and quality of harm reduction and drug treatment services, reduced incidence of HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis
lEssential medicines meaning increased availability of controlled medicines for medical and scientific purposes in view of pain and palliative care in low and middle income countries;
lHuman Security that is improving citizen security and a reduction in violence, corruption and crime that result both from the illicit drug market and from counterproductive policy responses.
lDevelopment in improving social economic indicators in areas of drug production, increased provision of equitable and environmentally sustainable development programmes; and
lHuman Rights that is ending human rights violation and abuses against affected populations, establishment of robust and effective human rights monitoring mechanisms with government and law enforcement compliance, comprehensive access to health, social and legal protection.
It is an open secret that the current global drug policies have failed to significantly reduce the size of drug problem and have led to severe negative consequences. Therefore, the Ungass 2016 must seek to create space for countries like Malawi to experiment with new policy approaches in order to respond to realities on the ground.