It’s one year til game time! Delegates from around the world will convene on April 19 2016 for a United Nations Special Session on drugs and drug policy. It should be a ripper. So what can and can't we expect?
1998 was the last UN Special Session on drugs, with the slogan ‘A drug free world: we can do it’. As you no doubt heard, we couldn’t do it. In fact, the supply of major illegal drugs increased.
Then in 2008, buried deep in some bullshit about how opium production had declined over the past one hundred years, the UNODC’s World Drugs Report noted some ‘unintended consequences’ of the UN drug control system: the creation of a criminal black market, the diversion of funds from health to enforcement, the ‘balloon effect’ whereby tighter controls in one place displace drug production and trafficking to another, and the stigma and marginalisation of drug users and consequent alienation from treatment services. (For more on the ‘unintended consequences of the War on Drugs, check out http://www.countthecosts.org/)
With their enthusiasm only slightly dulled, in 2009 the UNODC followed up with a Political Declaration and Plan of Action that made 2019 the ‘target date’ to ‘eliminate or reduce significantly and measurably’ the demand for drugs, as well as the cultivation of cannabis, opium and coca and the trafficking of all illicit drugs.
2019 was meant to be when popped the champagne to celebrate victory but by 2012 a group of Central and South American countries decided they’d had enough. 2019 wasn’t soon enough given the urgency of addressing the havoc and bloodshed that prohibition wrought across the Americas (and for that matter, the world). Following an initiative sponsored by Mexico and supported by 95 countries, the date for the Special Assembly was brought forward to 2016.
So what can and can’t we expect from UNGASS 2016? Well, in 2013, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon urged member states to use this opportunity ‘to conduct a wide-ranging and open debate that considers all options’, so amen to that. In the years since then, there is more and more support for the idea that those ‘options’ should include substantial reform.
You might have seen that the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has been getting behind the cause, as a leader of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and the West Africa Commission on Drugs. The GCDP’s 2014 report, Taking control: pathways to drug policies that work made seven key recommendations that included an end to the criminalisation of people who use drugs, and for the UN to ‘allow and encourage diverse experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs.’
It’s clear that criticism of current drug policy and calls for fair and pragmatic alternatives are becoming more and more common ‘within the tent’ of the great and good. The World Health Organisation in 2014 called for the decriminalisation of drug use. In March 2015, the UN Development Program’s submission to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs made deep criticisms of the impact of UN drug control treaties in compounding poverty, undermining public health, democracy and human rights, and damaging the environment.
It’s worth remembering at this point that the Preamble to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, states that the parties to the convention are ‘concerned with the health and welfare of mankind’. To quote the UNDP’s submission to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs,
There is growing evidence however, that current drug control policy has not only failed to achieve its own objectives but has generated considerable harms to health, social and economic development, and to peace, security, and stability. Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence shows that in many countries, policies focused on reducing supply and demand reduction, and related enforcement activities, have had little meaningful effect in eradicating production or problematic drug use.
In the lead up to UNGASS 2016, what are you going to do? #ImwithKofiAlmost 100 years of history won’t be undone quickly or easily and UNGASS 2016 won’t be a revolution. But without a doubt, we’re at the beginning of the end. How quickly that end comes will depend on how much pressure we all put on our government representatives to take the path toward fair and pragmatic drug policy. As individuals we have very little power to influence global politics. But as a movement of diverse groups committed to ending to the War on Drugs, we can be powerful.
In the lead up to UNGASS 2016, what are you going to do? #ImwithKofi