While a legion of drug policy reform advocates have spent their life savings traveling to New York to participate in the first United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in almost two decades, the word on the street is that the sideshow and circus of protestors surrounding this momentous event has overshadowed the fact that prohibition will ultimately remain unscarred.
A report from The Guardian indicates that, despite mounting pressure from several nations to end the War on Drugs, the General Assembly has approved a new agreement that maintains the current ban on illicit substances, including marijuana. On Tuesday, while world leaders like Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said, “We must move beyond prohibition to effective prevention,” there were some, like the ambassador for Indonesia, who argued that maintaining the death penalty was “an important component” to enforcing his country’s drug laws.
The UN agreement, which was approved on the first day of the three-day meeting, did not include plans to prevent people from being executed for possession of controlled substances. It only suggests the need for better cooperation between the connected nations under the current prohibitionary model, which makes it illegal to use any drug recreationally.
“The non-medical use of substances, in particular cannabis, are in clear contravention of the conventions,” said Werner Sipp, president of the International Narcotics Control Board. “They defy the international conventions.”
The agreement supposedly puts more of an emphasis on the, “health and welfare of humankind” rather than challenge the antiquated laws that have allowed nations like the United States to incarcerate an overabundance of people for being non-violent drug users.
Nevertheless, the unwillingness of the General Assembly to dig deeper into the issue of international drug reform did not stop Canada and Mexico from announcing that their respective nations plans to peruse nationwide cannabis reform in the near future.
During the UNGASS meeting, Canadian Health Minister Jane Philpott said that legal marijuana would happen in Canada next year.
“We will introduce legislation in spring 2017 that ensures we keep marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals,” Philpott said. “While this plan challenges the status quo in many countries, we are convinced it is the best way to protect our youth while enhancing public safety.”
Although Philpott did not go into detail about the northern nation’s plan to allow recreational pot to be cultivated and sold in retail outlets all across the country, she did say the effort would be done with “respect to human rights,” backed by a “firm scientific foundation.”
“In Canada, we will apply these principles with regard to marijuana,” she said.
Meanwhile, Peña Nieto revealed that not only does he support the legalization of medical marijuana, he said plans were already in works to bring medicinal cannabis to Mexican citizens.
“I am giving voice to those who have (in public forums) expressed the necessity of changing the regulatory framework to authorize the use of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes,” Peña Nieto said. “We should be flexible to change that which has not yielded results, the paradigm based essentially in prohibitionism, the so-called ‘War on Drugs’… [which] has not been able to limit production, trafficking nor the global consumption of drugs.”
Reuters reports that Mexico’s medical marijuana legislation could be approved sometime in May.
Members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, like Chris Beyrer, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights in Maryland, argue that despite the outcome of UNGASS, marijuana will still be the wrecking ball that brings down the international drug treaties.
“No matter what comes out of the special session, legal cannabis is what’s going to cause the international order on drugs to collapse,” Beyrer said.
What do you think? Does the UNGASS agenda go far enough? What drug laws would you like to see changed?