The UN’s Prohibitionism Impedes Drug Policy Reform

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  The fate of the global war on drugs remained uncertain today as delegates from 53 nations and representatives from dozens of civic and nongovernmental organizations concluded the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs’ annual meeting in Vienna.

The nine-day session opened against the backdrop of a shifting dialogue on the issue of drug use and abuse. It also offered a window into the challenges ahead for the 2016 U.N. General Assembly, which will convene its first special session on drugs since 1998. The U.N. hopes to reconcile mounting calls for drug policy reform with a treaty regime that was established more than five decades ago to promote a doctrine of zero tolerance.

The General Assembly presents its existing policy on drug abuse as a balanced program. In opening remarks last week, the executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, said its goal is to “protect the health of people … ensure access to treatment services and essential medicines, promote fundamental human rights, build viable alternative livelihoods and stop criminals from exploiting the vulnerable.”

In many instances, the agencies and subcommittees tasked with carrying out those efforts have done so diligently and conscientiously. The commission’s meeting featured several draft proposals around reducing harm, ensuring adequate access to palliative care and keeping low-level drug offenders out of the criminal justice system.