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Reflection on the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs – one year on

Steve Rolles (Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Bristol, UK)

Drugs and Alcohol Today

ISSN: 1745-9265

Article publication date: 5 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to show a reflection of one year on how the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) event was unfolded and its impacts and longer term implications.


This paper is a consideration of relevant past and present documentation and commentary. Experiences as a participant at some of the events described.


UNGASS was called for by countries affected by the failings of the existing conventions who wanted to introduce reformed alternative policies. Representatives of the status quo who opposed such change were partially successful in retaining some aspects of the prohibition approach and in minimising dissent and debate.

Research limitations/implications

Some decision-making discussions were not open to all potential participants – governmental, regional and civil society, including the author.

Practical implications

The wider debate prompted by the UNGASS indicated a breakdown in the previous consensus around the prohibition and punitive paradigm of the international conventions.

Social implications

Greater emphases on health and human rights aspects of international drug policy were included in the final documents. This provides scope for continued evolution of these emphases in the future.


The paper presents an account of the UNGASS and pre-UNGASS proceedings from the point of view of a reform-minded participant.



Rolles, S. (2017), "Reflection on the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs – one year on", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 74-80.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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