Has UNGASS 2016 stopped the drug war?


The 2016 edition of UNGASS (the United Nations General Assembly Special Session) took place recently. The subject was worldwide drug policy. The meeting at the UN headquarters in New York was at the request of various South American countries including Guatemala, Colombia and Mexico; lands which suffer heavily under the global drug war. The meeting was originally planned for 2019. However, at the request of the above-mentioned countries, it was brought forward.

The war on drugs has failed

The war on drugs has been going on for decades. The term ‘war on drugs’ was introduced in 1971 by the American president Nixon, but the struggle has been going on since 1914. In 1961 the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was introduced; a worldwide agreement under the direction of the United States to fight against drugs together.

But an increasing number of countries are repenting, since the battle has a high cost and no gain. In Mexico alone, between 2007 and 2014 – the worst war years, during which the country fought against drug cartels – more than 164,000 people died. The average life expectancy of Mexican men has lowered by half a year, according to a study from 2016. Drug cartels continue to protect their trade just as hard, and not without success. Despite the 51 billion dollars that the US spends annually on fighting the drug trade, various studies show that the profits from it are increasing and currently lie between 400 and 500 million dollars per year.

Mexican drug war battle in Michoacán 2007
In Mexico alone, between 2007 and 2014 more than 164,000 people died because of the drug war.

People who use recreational drugs are criminalized en masse. Prisons are overflowing with people who have been convicted of non-violent drug offences. Addicts are imprisoned instead of being helped. There are an increasing number of countries imposing the death sentence for drug offences. In the meantime, the World Drug Report 2015 from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) reports that worldwide drug use remains stable, all the money and all the ruined lives notwithstanding.

The UN is also failing

During the UNGASS summit on drugs in 1998 the war was further fuelled by the slogan: “A drug-free world… we can do it!”. A promise which should have been reality by 2008, but which, 18 years on, has still not succeeded.

Meanwhile many countries have had enough of the counterproductive drug policy. Especially in regard to cannabis. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. In 2015 the world saw Uruguay legalize cannabis. At least 24 American states have legalized medicinal cannabis and 4 states, plus Washington DC, have also legalized recreational use. Ironically enough it was once the United States that pushed for the UN’s cooperation in the matter of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

Much division during UNGASS 2016

It is high time to make the proper conclusions and change the drug policy. Therefore three South American countries pushed for an earlier UNGASS. But has the summit been useful?

Sensi Seeds
The UN headquarters in New York

The outcome report of UNGASS 2016, the final document containing all the conclusions, had already been drafted several months before the summit. On the request of various member states, it has been altered several times.

Therefore for the most part, the outcome was already set; a general agreement rather than a revolutionary change. There was no reference to the health and welfare aspect of the drug policy; some participants pushed for harm reduction, but this failed. Russia is one of the biggest opponents of change. A Russian delegation underlined this during UNGASS by refusing a clean needle project, despite this being proven to be effective against the spread of hepatitis. In addition, a Russian ‘drug expert’  referred to heroin and methadone (which is used to wean people from heroin addiction) as “the same narcotic drug”.

Also the ambition to end the death sentence for drug related crimes is missing from the document. A representative from Indonesia was booed when he called the death sentence “an important part” of drug policy, The Guardian reported. This is an opinion which is supported by more Asian countries and has not been removed from drug policy by UNGASS.

Canada shows courage

There were many more examples of division, stubbornness and naivety. But luckily, there was also good news. In 2017, Canada will fully legalize cannabis.


This news was broken during UNGASS by Jane Philpott, the Canadian Health Minister. It is well known that Canadian Minister-President Justin Trudeau, elected in 2015, is a great proponent of cannabis decriminalization and legalization. During UNGASS he matched his words with deeds. You can read a Sensi Seeds report on cannabis legalization in Canada here.

Is the UN the right leader?

On March 16th 2016 Cannabis News Network published a video stating that UNGASS is the last chance for the United Nations to be relevant. This chance has been missed. The examples in this article are just the tip of the iceberg. They show that the UN has not manifested a new, unified approach to drugs. The differing views of all the member states are still present, and possibly larger than ever. Structural changes have not been made. Apparently the UN is not the authority that can create clear unity.

Indeed, Richard Branson of the Global Commission on Drug Policy described the whole purpose of UNGASS as “the process was fatally flawed from the beginning”. According to the Cannabis Culture Award winner, this has happened partly because the 53 members of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) represent several large countries that operate a severe and strict drug policy, such as Russia, Iran and China. The CND wrote the UNGASS outcome report. According to Branson, this is a biased document because it serves the interests of its 53 members, not those of all 193 members of the UN. These points and more were made clear during a press conference which you can watch here.

It seems as though the world should not expect much from the United Nations. If a country wishes to improve its situation, its government needs to take action itself. The concept that this is not permitted according to international UN agreements has been neutered by Portugal, Uruguay, Mexico, diverse American states and Canada.

Maybe this is the lesson from UNGASS 2016: member states have the power themselves to implement new drug policies and thereby stop the war on drugs. Sensi Seeds hopes that more and more lands will use this power, not for a drug-free world, but for a better world.

The post Has UNGASS 2016 stopped the drug war? appeared first on Sensi Seeds.

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