UNODC’s shifting position on drug policy: Progress and challenges

31 January 2014
Policy issue

In March 2014, country delegations will gather at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) to review progress and challenges in international drug control since the agreement of a Political Declaration on drugs in 2009. Given that the Political Declaration aims to “eliminate or reduce significantly” the use, supply and demand of controlled drugs by 2019, this meeting represents an important opportunity for honest evaluation and an acknowledgement that these targets are not being achieved. With a United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs just two years away, this is an important time for international drug control policy.

To support these deliberations, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has released two important documents: a ‘Contribution of the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to the high-level review of the implementation of the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem ’, and ‘Drug Policy Provisions from the International Drug Control Conventions ’.

Both documents formalise an emerging rhetoric from UNODC that we have seen develop over recent years: that drug policies need to focus more on health than crime, but that the three international drug conventions – as they currently exist – provide sufficient flexibility to do this. This position is welcomed, as it follows years of targeted advocacy at UNODC to support this shift their position – but the paper is also restrictive in that it seeks to contain calls for the international conventions to be revisited or in any way amended. In keeping with a Joint Ministerial Statement that is being negotiated ahead of the CND meeting in March, this Advocacy Note will review both UNODC documents in terms of ‘Progress’, ‘Challenges’ and ‘Ways Forward’ for this debate.

The changing rhetoric from the agency – of flexibility and health-based policies – is very much welcomed. Similar to the previous UNODC Executive Director’s acknowledgement of “unintended consequences” from drug policy, Mr Fedotov’s Contributions have the potential to push the debate forward in Vienna. However, the debate needs clearer legal analysis and more extensive normative guidance than the Drug Policy Provisions document currently provides.