HIGH TIMES contributor and UN correspondent Sara Brittany Somerset helped edit and update this article.
There is distinct possibility that some less restrictive policies could be on the horizon in the realm of international drug law.
It was revealed earlier this week that Portugal’s former Prime Minister António Guterres will most likely become the United Nation’s next Secretary-General, since none of the members of the UN Security Council contested the idea on Wednesday in a secret vote.
Guterres survived an official vote on Thursday. His nomination will now go before the UN General Assembly for further consideration.
While Russia once favored a different candidate, it seems they were keen to come to a consensus and make the announcement during their term as President of the Security Council for the month of October.
“Today after our sixth straw poll, we have a clear favorite and his name is António Guterres,” the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the UN, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, told Reuters. “We have decided to go to a formal vote tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock, and we hope it can be done by acclamation.”
What makes this news so important is that Guterres was the guiding force behind Portugal’s decision to decriminalize all drugs back in 2001. Since this policy was put into place, low-level drug offenders are no longer sent to prison. Instead, the country offers treatment programs. This plan has been a huge success, contributing to fewer overdose deaths, AIDS cases and, of course, a lower incarceration rate.
In fact, a 2015 report from the Drug Policy Alliance shows that since Portugal implemented its decriminalization law, there have not been any major increases in drug use. Fewer teenagers are using drugs and more addicts are opting for treatment, rather than continuing to sink further into the gutters of civil society.
Portugal still prosecutes drug traffickers.
There are no guarantees that Guterres, as the UN’s Secretary-General, would utilize his experience with decriminalization to influence a brand new scheme of international policy in respect to illegal drugs. However, having that kind of leadership in the UN could certainly increase the chances for more progressive ideas to be introduced.
Policy experts say it is still too early to tell whether Guterres will use his power to revise international drug law, but suggest his control could be beneficial in persuading world leaders to give some serious consideration to alternative penalties.
As Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, pointed out in his analysis of the situation, international drug treaties “do not require nations to maintain criminal penalties on drug use,” which gives the global community an opening to explore a total decriminalization model.
Although there is some controversy over whether decriminalization actually works, with many American law enforcement agencies claiming the elimination of criminal penalties for drug possession only increases distribution, it is really the variation of local, state and federal law that causes all of the problems. The United States would undoubtedly benefit from a uniform drug decriminalization policy similar to the concept that has been working in Portugal for the past 15 years. Especially, considering that some police forces in the Midwest have argued the need to build more jails because they are running out of room to house addicts.
Meanwhile, law enforcement in some areas of Massachusetts, where the heroin epidemic is spiraling out of control, has opted to use a more common sense approach to the drug problem. The Gloucester Police Department now offers complimentary treatment programs for drug offenders rather than send them to jail—a concept more police agencies all over the country could learn from.
If all goes in favor of Guterres taking over as the leader of the UN, he would replace the current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the beginning of 2017.
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