Author: Wittney Sadler (Vienna Master of Human Rights) 


Most of us have heard about the United States’ “War on Drugs”, which started back in the 1970’s with President Nixon. The term was coined when Nixon stated that drug abuse was, “public enemy number one”. What did this actually mean and look like? Well, domestically, it led to the increase of incarcerated persons for non-violent drug offences. Specifically, in an article written by the Cato Institute it stated, “In 1980, for example, 580,900 people were arrested on drug‐​related charges in the United States. By 2014, that number had increased to 1,561,231. More than 700,000 of these arrests in 2014 were related to marijuana. In fact, nearly half of the 186,000 people serving time in federal prisons in the United States are incarcerated on drug‐​related charges.” Furthermore, the damage of being incarcerated for drug use damages an individual’s opportunities for employment and financial aid in some cases, which is extremely detrimental to their livelihood and basic human rights.

Abroad, it looked a bit differently. Military tools and force, such as aerial spraying of toxic herbicides, were used against farmers who grew opium, coca, and cannabis, in rural, poverty-stricken countries, who rely on growing these crops to provide for their families; simply said it is their livelihoods. It is evident that human rights were not something that played an important role in the United States’ “War on Drugs” or even considered for that matter.

Either way it has been clear that this method to the “war on drugs” has disproportionately affected and targeted communities with low socio-economic statues and other minorities, particularly people of color. Furthermore, countless studies and reports have been conducted stating how ineffective this method has been in combatting drug abuse (Institute for Policy Studies).

It is evident that in the past human rights have not played a role in drug policy or really even been a consideration, but I believe this is changing, well at least in some places in the world. Most recently in November 2020 Oregon became the first United States’ state to decriminalize the possession and personal use of drugs, in its’ passing of ballot measure 110. This consisted of a major shift from the previous way of dealing with drugs through criminalization, to now focusing on offering health and treatment services.

Ballot Measure 110 that was passed in Oregon includes a much more human rights-oriented approach to combatting the worrisome global drug abuse epidemic. It includes establishing addiction recovery centers that are free of charge to people in need throughout the state; establishing an oversight and accountability council to ensure implementation; redirecting marijuana taxes to pay for these centers;  and this measure will eliminate criminal penalties for possession of specific quantities of controlled substances by adults and juveniles, instead possession of these particular substances will become a non-criminal Class E violation with a maximum fine of $100 or will require a completion of a health assessment with an addiction treatment professional. For possession of substances in greater amounts that specified it would be classified as a misdemeanor (Ballot Measure 110).

Oregon provides a very well thought out alternative to tackling the drug abuse epidemic by placing emphasis on actually helping individuals to get treatment to overcome their drug addiction rather than throwing them into prison with no real support and just putting a “band aid” on the problem. Furthermore, they are redirecting marijuana taxes to provide funding for all these measures included in Ballot Measure 110, thus not placing further economic challenges on the state and its citizens.

This measure will hopefully lead the way to creating a more human-rights oriented approach to drug abuse and addiction. To ultimately not let drug addiction label you as a criminal, but someone who needs support and treatment and can then get the necessary assistance from the state that they need in order to live healthy and successful lives. It is paramount that we end this global “war on drugs” and actually address the real issue of addiction, which should be an obligation of the state to provide for its’ citizens.


 Internship Info:

UNODC – Secretariat of the International Narcotics Control Board, Division for Treaty Affairs of the UN office at Vienna


The Global Rapid Interdiction of Dangerous Substances (GRIDS) Programme responds to the 2018 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 73/192, call for “International cooperation to address and counter the world drug problem”. To this end, GRIDS integrates and further expands ongoing INCB activities under the existing operational Projects Ion (NPS), OPIOIDS, and Public-Private Partnerships initiatives and in cooperation with its global precursors programme.

GRIDS capitalizes on the proven expertise and experience of INCB and its unique convening power at the international level to achieve tangible results. Existing global platforms for the real-time exchange of operational information and intelligence, such as the Project Ion Incident Communication System (IONICS) and its GRIDS Intelligence interface, are fully utilized to achieve operational objectives which support:

1.) Intelligence-gathering: exchange at a global level of actionable intelligence on the trafficking modus operandi of dangerous substances through INCB platforms

2.) Coordinating global special operations: operationalizing intelligence by connecting focal points across law enforcement and regulatory agencies and launching operations to exchange intelligence, such as through INCB’s Operation ” Trance” in 2020.

3.) Rapid training on identification, interdiction and intelligence exchange: strengthening interdiction and intelligence exchange capacity by training and exchanging know-how, technical expertise, contacts and methodologies; and

4.) Provision of practical tools: equipping those who have a practical role to play in interdiction efforts with the necessary tools, frameworks for cooperation and secure channels of communication to succeed in substantially reducing trafficking in dangerous substances.

My tasks include supporting the creation and holding of expert group meetings, assisting in the creation of industry guidelines, identifying potential stakeholders for partnerships and collaboration and creating a podcast to showcase the work our program is doing – including looking at the affects of Covid-19 on emerging dangerous substances and the supply side of drug trafficking.  Overall, I’m feeling very fulfilled and that I’m able to make and leave my mark on this program.