Moves to legalise narcotics could lead to increased consumption and more deaths, the U.N. anti-drugs chief said on Monday, challenging a global commission's recommendation that the use of some drugs like cannabis be legally regulated.
In a report last month, the non-governmental Global Commission on Drug Policy advised allowing "experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs" including cannabis and certain so-called psychoactive substances.
"New experiments are needed in allowing legal but restricted access to drugs that are now only available illegally," concluded the panel, chaired by Brazilian ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso and including former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.
But Yury Fedotov, head of the Vienna-based United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told a news conference, "I believe that such experimentation certainly will make drugs more available and (cheaper)." He added: "It means that we may face increased consumption of psychoactive substances which may result in more death and more suffering of individuals (and) their families."
Marketed as "designer drugs" and "legal highs", new psychoactive substances can be made by slightly modifying the molecular structure of controlled drugs, making a new drug with similar effects which can elude national and international bans. There is disagreement on how to best counter the world's narcotics problem, with critics questioning a "war on drugs" and advocating some legalisation to try to undermine criminal gangs that thrive on narcotics trafficking.
In Latin America, the legalisation of some narcotics is increasingly seen by regional leaders as a possible way to end the violence that plagues the cocaine trade. "There is a growing perception that the 'war on drugs' approach has failed," the Global Commission on Drug Policy said on its website (www.globalcommissionondrugs.org), adding that criminalisation did not reduce drug use. In many countries the harm caused by drug prohibition in terms of corruption, violence and violation of human rights largely exceeds the harm caused by drugs."
In a move being closely watched by other nations debating drug liberalisation, Uruguay's parliament last year approved a bill to legalise and regulate the production and sale of marijuana - the first country to do so. Aimed at wresting the business from criminals, the small South American nation has gone further than countries that have decriminalised possession or, like the Netherlands, tolerate the sale of marijuana in "coffee shops".
In the United States, the states of Washington and Colorado have legalised the sale of cannabis under licence, but Federal laws prohibiting it are still in place.
The UNODC said in a June report that more Americans are consuming cannabis as their perception of the health risks declines, suggesting liberalisation may further increase its use among the young.
By Fredrik Dahl - Reuters via Trust.Org/Oct. 6, 2014
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