Home > Towards UNGASS 2016.

Pike, Brigid (2014) Towards UNGASS 2016. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 51, Autumn 2014, pp. 12-13.

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Launched in Issue 48, this column reports on policy initiatives, research and debates launched by UN member states and civil society organisations that are relevant to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem, due to be held in 2016 (A/RES/67/193). 

The LSE (London School of Economics) IDEAS International Drug Policy Project is a large-scale multidisciplinary and cross-regional research undertaking. It was created to produce a deep strategic re-evaluation of the international drug control system through rigorous academic research and policy analysis. To date, it has published two reports. 

In October 2012 Governing the global drug wars was published. Following an examination of the historical evolution of the international drug control system, the eleven authors make just two recommendations for immediate reform of the international drug control system – one focusing on human rights and one on the operation of the International Drug Control Board (INCB). Their final conclusions and recommendations read as follows: 

‘The international drug conventions’ achievement of their stated goal of contributing to human health and wellbeing would be more likely if the conventions were implemented with attention to human rights standards and with the participation of civil society. Widely accepted human rights standards for health services and health service delivery are very pertinent to drug treatment and rehabilitation and should be built into oversight of states’ adherence to the conventions. Attention to human rights standards – including the right of people who use drugs to participate meaningfully in decisions related to services meant for them and the right to mechanisms of redress when rights are violated – should be part of the obligations that states take on when they ratify the drug conventions. 

‘There is an urgent need for the INCB as the body overseeing compliance with the conventions to take human rights seriously regarding state commitments to services for people who use drugs and the ready tendency of states to limit human rights in the name of drug control. For this to happen, a number of things must change:

  • The proceedings of the INCB should be opened up to both member states and civil society organisations, as the meetings of other United Nations-supported entities are. Regular interaction with human rights organisations and member states concerned about human rights would be beneficial.
  • Rules for the composition of the INCB should be amended to require that the body include reputable human rights experts among its members or that it include ex officio an expert or experts from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. International law expertise has usually been lacking in this body of experts, though international law is at the heart of the group’s mandate.
  • At the very least, the INCB should make a serious effort to work into its activities the human rights guidelines recently published by UNODC. This guidance underscores the importance to drug control efforts of ensuring that policing and provision of health and social services to people who use drugs be conducted explicitly so as to protect and promote human rights.’ 

In May 2014 a second report Ending the drug wars was published. The LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy which compiled the report identifies three principal changes which they believe should be made to the international drug control regime:

  1. States should shift resources from enforcement-led and repressive policies to public health policies which will reduce harm and ensure access to treatment.
  2. Instead of blanket interdiction and eradication policies, states should seek to minimise the impacts of illicit drug markets on producer and transit countries, and promote human security and protect fundamental human rights.
  3. States should pursue rigorously monitored policies and regulatory experimentation. Examples to date include the cannabis regulation experiments that have been announced in Colorado, Washington and Uruguay, and the steps taken in New Zealand to regulate new psychoactive substances. 

The expert group warns that if the UN does not review and revise the drug conventions, more individual states will push ahead on their own, and international coordination and cooperation in the drugs domain – as essential as it is in relation to other policy issues such as climate change and regional trade imbalances – will wither. The expert group argues that the role of the UN in relation to the control of drugs should be to (1) facilitate debate, discussion, experimentation with new policy options, evaluation and dissemination of results regarding policy innovations, and (2) advocate for human rights and for the dignity of drug users and all those affected by drug misuse. www.lse.ac.uk/IDEAS/Home.aspx 

In May 2014 ALICE RAP1 published its fifth policy brief, Cannabis – from prohibition to regulation. The brief looks at the health, social and economic impacts of current prohibitionist approaches and how legal regulatory cannabis policies could be crafted that better protect public health, wealth and well‐being. For most jurisdictions cannabis regulation provides a unique opportunity to replace un‐regulated criminal markets with legal regulatory approaches that are built and evaluated on public health principles and outcomes from the outset. Whether such legalisation is a net positive or negative for public health and safety will depend on how well regulations are formulated and implemented. By removing political and institutional obstacles, by freeing up resources for research and evidence‐based public health and social interventions, legal regulation can potentially create a more conducive environment for achieving improved drug policy outcomes, with reduced social and health harms, in the longer term. www.alicerap.eu/ 

In July 2014 the World Health Organization published its Consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for key populations. The document calls on countries to work towards (1) developing policies and laws that decriminalise injection and other use of drugs and, thereby, reduce incarceration, (2) developing policies and laws that decriminalise the use of clean needles and syringes (and that permit NSPs [needle and syringe programmes]) and that legalise opioid substitution therapy (OST) for people who are opioid-dependent, and (3) banning compulsory treatment for people who use and/or inject drugs. www.who.int

(Compiled by Brigid Pike)

1 ALICE RAP (Addictions and Lifestyles in Contemporary Europe – Reframing Addictions Project) is the first major Europe‐wide project studying addictions as a whole and their influence on health and wealth. The aim of this five‐year €10‐million co‐financed EU project is to stimulate and feed scientific evidence into a comprehensive public policy dialogue and debate on current and alternative approaches to addictions and to inform the development of more effective and efficient interventions.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 51, Autumn 2014
October 2014
Page Range
pp. 12-13
Health Research Board
Issue 51, Autumn 2014

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