03/22/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

International Narcotics Control Board Reaffirms its Shameful Commitment to Politics over Science

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the independent and quasi-judicial control organ monitoring the implementation of the United Nations drug control conventions, released its Annual Report 2008 today.

With the release of the report, the International Narcotics Control Board boldly reaffirmed its shameful commitment to politics over science as well as its shocking indifference to the failures and harmful consequences of the global drug prohibition regime.

The INCB is the last of the UN drug agencies to still prioritize abstinence-only ideology over evidence-based policies that have proven effective in reducing drug-related harms. Its recommendations regarding substitution treatment, cannabis policy, and harm reduction measures to reduce death, disease, crime and suffering are all at odds with both scientific evidence and evolving policies in many parts of the world.

Perhaps most stunning is the Board's failure to consider the crime, violence and corruption as well as over-incarceration and violations of human rights associated with the global drug prohibition regime.

Coming on the heels of the report released last week by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, which came to very different conclusions with its call for a paradigm shift in global drug control policy, the INCB report seems sadly irrelevant to the most important issues in drug control today.

Now that the Obama administration shows signs of joining with other nations in emphasizing health and science over anti-drug rhetoric and ideology, the INCB may soon be faced with the choice of evolving or going out of business.

Perhaps the only helpful feature of this year's report was the focus on the tens of millions of people who suffer from untreated moderate-to-severe pain as a result of the underutilization of narcotic drugs. But the international agency most engaged in trying to deal with this drug problem is the World Health Organization, while the INCB's historic obsession with restricting the availability of narcotic drugs has likely contributed to pervasive undertreatment of pain.

It will soon be one hundred years since the International Opium Congress convened in Shanghai in 1909, thereby initiating the global drug control system. An appropriate memorial would be the abolition of the INCB.

Ethan Nadelmann is the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance