United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) New York, 8-10 June 1998
The "United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem" held from 8 to 10 June in New York, did not bring any surprises. The drug summit adopted a global strategy to reduce illicit drug supply and demand by 2008. In the General Assembly room, it was an uninterrupted three day sequence of political speeches. All countries could give their own emphasis to the agenda items and present in seven minutes their own more general view on the drugs issue and their policies to deal with it. But, all in all, it has been a lost opportunity, no evaluation of current drug policies took place whatsoever, it was devoted to (as a New York Times editorial phrased it) "recycling unrealistic pledges".
A strong attack against the European practice of 'leniency' regarding cannabis use and possession took place at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) session (11-15 March, 2002) in Vienna. There was an orchestrated attempt to pass a CND resolution to put a dam against the 'leniency'.
Meetings of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) are no forum for debate and change. The author, a former senior officer of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), shows how CND meetings are manipulated in the interests of 17 developed countries that largely fund UNDCP – the CND’s ‘civil service’. However, these major donors are not united on policy or on how to apply the UN drug Conventions, so CND decisions reflect the lowest level of disagreement, with major splits on policy ignored.
Numerous UN conferences and summits have been devoted to negotiating a harmonized global approach to illicit drugs. Yet more and more cracks are beginning to appear in the supposedly universal model which is based on a highly fragile consensus. The failure to counter the ever-growing problems related to the use of illicit drugs has led countries to question current policies and to experiment with approaches less driven by the US-inspired ideology of "zero tolerance" and more rooted in pragmatism. This has led to increasing acceptance of the concept of harm reduction for consumers, where drug use is treated as a public health rather than a law enforcement problem. On the production side, discussion centers on the need to secure alternative livelihoods for involved farmer communities and how to most effectively promote alternative development.
As political leaders from around the world gather in Vienna on 11-12 March to review the last decade of international drug control, and set a framework for the next ten years with the signing of a Political Declaration, any hopes for progress or a new pragmatism in approaches to the world drug problem are fading fast.
Peter Reuter (RAND), Franz Trautmann (Trimbos Institute) (eds.)
15 March 2009
This report commissioned by the European Commission, found no evidence that the global drug problem has been reduced during the period from 1998 to 2007 – the primary target of the 1998 UNGASS, which aimed to significantly reduce the global illicit drugs problem by 2008 through international cooperation and measures in the field of drug supply and drug demand reduction. Broadly speaking the situation has improved a little in some of the richer countries, while for others it worsened, and for some of those it worsened sharply and substantially', among which are a few large developing or transitional countries. Given the limitations of the data, a fair judgment is that the problem became somewhat more severe.
The year 2012 marks the centenary of the international drug control system and the first instance of a state being moved to denounce formally any of the UN drug control treaties. The 55th session of the Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND), held in Vienna between 12th and 16th March, therefore looked set to be a fascinating event and did not disappoint. As expected, member states favouring the current regime praised its virtues and ongoing relevance 100 years since The Hague Opium Convention; behaviour that found support in the statements and positions of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB or Board).
Reflections upon this year’s CND are mixed. On the one hand, some states went further than ever before in openly challenging the current regime on the grounds that, after a century, it needs modernising. That the government of Uruguay is currently considering a domestic policy on cannabis that would put it in breach of the Single Convention shows that, in one instance at least, we have moved beyond rhetoric and posturing.
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.
The current trend towards legal regulation of the cannabis market has become irreversible and requires an urgent dialogue by UN member states on the best models for protecting people’s health and safety, argues a new report. The question facing the international community today is no longer whether there is a need to revise the UN drug control system, but rather when and how to do it.
Ketamine is an essential medicine used for anaesthesia. It is the only available anaesthetic for essential surgery in most rural areas of developing countries, home to more than 2 billion of the world’s people. Scheduling ketamine will leave these populations with no alternative anaesthesia for essential surgery, and will further deepen the already acute crisis of global surgery.
The international drug control regime is facing the most profound challenge of its existence. Member states have for some time been experimenting with new responses to the ‘world drug problem’; however, the advent of legally regulated cannabis markets has resulted in a ratcheting up of these challenges to expose the system to new levels of strain. With the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem fast approaching, how will the international community make use of the opportunity it provides for a free and open debate?