Many countries use UN World Drug Day (June 26) as an excuse for persecuting drug users and people involved in drug-related crime. China, for example, has used this day to carry out public executions of drug offenders since the early nineties. Last year, around 20 people were executed.
As an alternative, organizations supported by the Global Drug Policy Program of the Open Society Foundations offered a range of actions to emphasize the need for honest, open debate about drugs and drug use, and for policies which seek to treat, not punish.
In the run-up to World Drug Day, the Guardian published an article about the International Harm Reduction Association's report Complicity or Abolition? The Death Penalty and International Support for Drug Enforcement. It exposes the links between executions carried out and financial contributions from European governments, the European Commission, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. These bodies provide funds to support drug enforcement operations in countries that use the death penalty, such as China, Iran and Vietnam. According to the report, 32 states retain the death penalty for drug-related crimes, which, depending on the country, can range from the possession of illicit drugs, to drug manufacturing.
In a similar vein, "Nice People Take Drugs"—an international campaign headed by Release, a UK-based organization—launched a short film depicting an execution. It seeks to highlight the hypocrisy of politicians' responses and encourage a stigma-free debate about drugs in our societies.
In Brazil, Viva Rio launched the book Drugs and Culture: New Perspectives, in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture, the Federal University of Bahia, and other research institutions. The book’s 17 essays cover everything from the history of drug use in the West to the consumption of drugs as a cultural phenomenon. In an effort to gather creative suggestions to deal with drug-related issues, Viva Rio also held a debate with young police and health agents working in the favelas. Videos by favela-based correspondents for the site Viva Favela were presented.
In Argentina, Intercambios presented the book Contributions for a New Drug Policy in the National Congress. The publication aims to strengthen a work agenda and contribute to rethinking the regulatory model, helping to identify policies that protect public order, public health, and human rights for all citizens.
ESPOLEA, a youth-led organization in Mexico, used Twitter to send facts about drugs to its followers, along with important information for drug users.
Two organizations on different sides of the globe drew media attention with graffiti. In Poland, the European Drug Policy Initiative led the campaign "Treat Instead of Punish," concerning Poland's draconian drug law. Along a major street in Warsaw, graffiti depicts members of JUMP '93, a methadone patients' association, leading public figures, such as a former Minister of Health, a rock musician, as well as Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch of the Global Drug Policy Program, and Professor Wiktor Osiatynski, of the Open Society Foundations Global Advisory Board. (See more photos of the graffiti project.)
Meanwhile, in Rio de Janeiro, Psicotropicus organized a grafitti-painting session on a beach. "One of the screens has PAZ (peace) coming out of a hand. This could be linked to the war on drugs and the peace we're working to achieve," said Luiz Guanabara, director of Psicotropicus. Passersby were encouraged to sign the Call to Action, an international document signed by Michel Kazatchkine, head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, among others. A lawyer gave free consultations on the Brazilian drug law.
In the United States, an op-ed about U.S. drug policies by the director of the Institute for Policy Studies was published, while the Washington Office on Latin America, Center for International Policy, and the Latin American Working Group Education Fund published the report Waiting for Change, an analysis of the Obama Administration's Latin America policy, including counter-narcotics policy.
Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the UN Single Convention (the first of three UN Drug Conventions). This will be the next major opportunity for advocates of rational, humane drug policies to make a concerted effort to campaign against restrictive international policies.
All grantees active in Latin America mentioned above are cofunded by the Open Society Foundations Latin America Program.