Challenging the UN drug control conventions

Problems and possibilities
01 March 2003

Increasing numbers of sovereign states are beginning to review their stance on the prohibition based UN drug control conventions. Recent years have seen nations implement, or seriously discuss, tolerant drug policies that exploit the latitude existing within the legal framework of the global drug control regime. With efforts to implement pragmatic approaches to drug use at the national level, however, comes the growing recognition that the flexibility of the conventions is not unlimited. It seems that the time is not too distant when further movement within states away from the prohibitive paradigm will only be possible through some sort of change in or defection from the regime.

This article suggests that efforts to implement treaty revision are fraught with difficulties. It will be shown how the UN procedures permitting revision of the conventions allow nations supporting the current prohibition based system, particularly the United States of America, to easily block change. The article argues that such systemic obstacles may lead parties wishing to appreciably expand policy space at a national level to consider a form of treaty withdrawal. It is suggested that such action by a group of like-minded revision oriented states may be sufficient to trigger a weakening of the regime. The article contends, however, that total withdrawal would be a problematic option, not least because it would have serious consequences for the entire international treaty system.

April 2003
Special Issue on the UNGASS Mid-term Review
International Journal of Drug Policy (Volume 14, Issue 2)