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Reform Global Drug Policy to Help Marijuana Legalization and Human Rights

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On April 19-21, the United Nations is holding the "UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem," known as UNGASS, the UN's highest-level session on global drug policy since 1998.

With changes like marijuana legalization in the US and elsewhere, questioning of the drug control regime in its larger sense coming from some Latin American governments, and other big picture changes, the UNGASS was an opportunity to have a real dialogue on where global drug policy should go and how it should change.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration took an approach to the UNGASS that had positive aspects, but which was short-term in its outlook. US negotiators sought to prevent any real discussion of what marijuana legalization in the US and elsewhere means for the three international drug control treaties. The US also took too cautious of an approach on human rights, public health, and development issues, stopping short of the critical and forward-looking reforms advocated by numerous NGOs, UN agencies and US allies.

We believe that the Obama administration in its remaining months should take bolder and better steps to fix global drug policy. We believe that doing so would leave a stronger legacy in this area, one that is better aligned to the positive direction President Obama has helped to point US domestic criminal justice policy.

We think US officials should make public statements at the UNGASS and in other UN and international forums that call for bolder and better changes, and that the administration should make the changes it can to US foreign policy on drug issues in order to better leverage our own international influence for these purposes. Some of the steps we call for include:

  • Initiate a dialogue on treaty reform in light of national moves toward marijuana legalization, and support a proposal made by several countries for a UN Expert Advisory Group to study the related issues.
  • Assert the supremacy of human rights vs. drug control objectives when there appears to be a conflict.
  • Call for decisive steps to end mass incarceration, the decriminalization of use and possession of drugs, and an end to the death penalty for drug offenses.
  • Continue to call for "people-centered" approaches to drug policy, but more fully and more explicitly support the "harm reduction," public health approach to dealing with substance issues.
  • Call for the UN's historic Sustainable Development Goals to be a basis that both informs and constrains drug policy.

These and more important recommendations can be found in statements signed by hundreds of organizations, linked from http://stopthedrugwar.org/global.



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