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Pike, Brigid (2015) Towards UNGASS 2016. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 53, Spring 2015, pp. 9-10.

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Since Issue 48, Drugnet Ireland has carried ‘Towards UNGASS 2016’ as a regular column. It reports on policy initiatives, research and debates launched by UN member states and civil society organisations in the lead-up to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem, due to be held in 2016 (A/RES/67/193).


On 30 October 2014 Drugs: international comparators was published by the UK government. This report describes policy and operational responses to drugs in other countries and reviews the evidence for their impact. Countries visited for the study included Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, the USA and Uruguay.  In their foreword to the report, the Home Secretary Theresa May MP and Minister of State Norman Baker MP state that while countries are dealing with similar issues and there are common elements in the responses, there are also stark differences in emphasis, often influenced by different social and legal contexts. They comment: ‘What works in one country may not be appropriate in another. … [the differences] illustrate the complexity of the challenge, and demonstrate why we cannot simply adopt another country’s approach wholesale.’


The report focuses on a series of responses to illicit drugs which the authors deem ‘particularly innovative, widely discussed, or relevant to the UK situation’. They are:

  • drug consumption rooms,
  • heroin-assisted treatment,
  • dissuasion commissions,
  • drug courts,
  • prison-based treatment
  • prison-based harm reduction,
  • new psychoactive substances,
  • supply-side regulation of cannabis, and
  • decriminalising the possession of cannabis for personal use.




On 7 January 2015 Measurement matters: designing new metrics for a drug policy that works was published by the Igarapé Institute, a Brazilian-based think-and-do-tank that focuses on emerging security and development issues; the Institute serves as the Secretariat to the Global Commission on Drug Policy. This new strategic paper introduces a preliminary set of six goals, 16 targets and 86 indicators to help guide governments, law enforcement agencies, health institutions and civil society in crafting more effective and efficient drug policy. The paper is based on interviews with more than 50 leading drug policy experts from North and Latin America, Africa and Asia between 2012 and 2014, and a review of international best practice. According to one of the authors, ‘conventional drug policy metrics … tell us how tough we´re being, but say nothing about whether we´re successful or not’.


Under two high-level impacts – improving the health and welfare of the population, and enhancing security and safety of people – Measurement matters proposes six over-arching goals:

  • end criminalisation and stigmatisation of drug users,
  • curb drug use through public health measures,
  • diminish rate of incarceration of non-violent drug-related offenders,
  • target violent organised crime groups and traffickers,
  • provide meaningful alternatives to illicit crop production, and
  • encourage experimentation with different approaches to regulating drugs.



On 21 January 2015 Options and issues regarding marijuana legalization was published by the US-based RAND Drug Policy Research Center. The paper reviews recent changes in marijuana policies and the decisions that confront jurisdictions considering alternatives to traditional marijuana prohibition. The objective is to provide readers with ‘some tools for assessing the options and to help them appreciate the uncertainties’ (p. 12).


The authors point out that marijuana policy is not a binary choice between prohibition and the for-profit commercial model. Legalisation encompasses a wide range possible regimes, determined by answering three key questions:

  • Who would be allowed to supply legal marijuana?
  • Would legal marijuana be taxed and, if so, how?
  • How would legal marijuana be regulated?


The costs and benefits of legalising marijuana also need to be considered. The authors stress that ‘the relevant policy question is not whether marijuana’s current harms outweigh its benefits but whether and how legalisation might change those harms and benefits and in which direction’ (p. 11). On the costs side, the authors acknowledge ‘clear and acute health effects’ associated with use, especially heavy use, of marijuana. However, they note some ‘fundamental limitations’ of the evidence: although marijuana use is correlated with many adverse outcomes, it is difficult to ascertain whether marijuana causes those outcomes; other factors confounding the conclusions to be drawn from research findings include the context of use – whether in an illegal or a legal context – and how this has influenced use, and the ‘largely unmeasured amounts of cannabinoids’ involved in observational data.


On the benefits side, the authors note that some benefits of no longer enforcing laws against marijuana are medical benefits, gains in personal liberties, and the benefits of reduced arrest and sanctioning of marijuana offenders. In addition, the authors comment that self-reported medical and non-medical benefits of using marijuana are ‘real and that they should matter, but they are far more difficult to quantify than other benefits, and they have received far less research attention than the harms of marijuana use’ (p. 11). 


The authors conclude that policy decisions must be made in a ‘fog of uncertainties’:


There is no recipe for marijuana legalization, nor are there working models of established fully legal marijuana markets. It must be expected that any initial set of choices will need to be reconsidered in the light of experience, new knowledge, and changing conditions, including federal policy and the policies in neighboring states. That puts a premium on flexibility; the policy should not be frozen into its initial design. (p. 12)




(Compiled by Brigid Pike)

Item Type
Publication Type
International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Issue Title
Issue 53, Spring 2015
March 2015
Page Range
pp. 9-10
Health Research Board
Issue 53, Spring 2015

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