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Book part
Publication date: 15 October 2018

Ann Fordham and Heather Haase

This chapter reviews the history of civil society engagement on drug policy at the UN. Despite the challenging beginnings characterised by small numbers of civil society…

Abstract

This chapter reviews the history of civil society engagement on drug policy at the UN. Despite the challenging beginnings characterised by small numbers of civil society attendees at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, coupled with government mistrust, in the last two decades, civil society representatives have made visible progress in advocating for policy reform and changing the terms of the debate.

Efforts by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the lead up to, as well as during the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), best illustrate this increase in impact and engagement. Reform-orientated civil society strategised heavily on how to bring ‘comprehensive, diverse, balanced, and inclusive’ representation to the UNGASS and achieved this through the Civil Society Task Force, which was carefully balanced in terms of geographic, gender and ideological diversity, and included nine representatives from affected populations, including people who use drugs, people in recovery from drug use disorders, families, youth, farmers of crops deemed illicit, harm reduction, prevention, access to controlled medicines and criminal justice.

The 2016 UNGASS saw the fruition of greater civil society engagement. Eleven speakers were chosen to speak in the forum showcasing the calibre and diversity of civil society representatives. They made powerful, at times poignant statements and pleas for better, more compassionate treatment of people who use drugs, farmers of crops deemed illicit, as well as respect for human rights, sustainable livelihoods and the need to approach the issue through a public health and human rights lens.

The chapter concludes with the finding that reform-orientated civil society had a significant impact on the UNGASS – both on the gains in the Outcome Document and at the actual event, while noting that the most impactful ways to influence has nonetheless been through reform advocacy efforts outside of the official civil society mechanisms. Civil society engagement remains a serious challenge. International solidarity and global networking remain a central part of the drug policy reform movement’s strategy to advocate for change at the national, regional and global levels.

Details

Collapse of the Global Order on Drugs: From UNGASS 2016 to Review 2019
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-78756-488-6

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Book part
Publication date: 15 October 2018

Jonas von Hoffmann

Both Bolivia and Uruguay broke ranks with the global drug prohibition regime by introducing novel drug policies. State control of the production and supply of coca and…

Abstract

Both Bolivia and Uruguay broke ranks with the global drug prohibition regime by introducing novel drug policies. State control of the production and supply of coca and cannabis represents a clear departure from both the spirit and the letter of the international drug conventions. Although, the rationale, processes and outcomes of policy change were distinctive in many regards, this chapter posits that there are conceptual resemblances. In both countries, the leadership of a charismatic and idiosyncratic president has to be considered. Furthermore, in both countries, mobilisation and activism were also decisive. Lastly, in both countries novel drug policy responded to specific problems that decision-makers faced. Approaching drug policy reforms in Bolivia and Uruguay in terms of personal leadership, mobilisation and policy problems provides a useful analytical first-cut to assess the continuity and change in drug policy observable elsewhere. Additionally, scrutinising the reasons and motivations for undertaking drug policy reform also allows to better understand each country’s behaviour on the international stage.

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Collapse of the Global Order on Drugs: From UNGASS 2016 to Review 2019
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-78756-488-6

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Article
Publication date: 5 June 2017

John Collins

The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of civil society in the recent history of drug policy reform. It focuses on the UN drug control system, which is designed…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of civil society in the recent history of drug policy reform. It focuses on the UN drug control system, which is designed to regulate certain “scheduled” or listed substances internationally. It provides new light on recent reformist discourses and strategic agendas and how they related to the reality of UN politics and international relations. It questions the idea that the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) in 2016 was a failure in terms of outcomes. It concludes by suggesting that the true outcomes of the UNGASS process will initially be obscured by the complexity of national-international drug policy dialectics, but may eventually prove more tangible and enduring than proposed formal systemic reforms.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper examines the historical role of civil society in the UN drug control system. It highlights that although civil society played a key role in the early formation of the system, this role diminished over time as the system professionalised. Meanwhile, as a new reformist movement emerged in the 1990s challenging the status quo, the paper traces this movement through the early UNGASS process, the decline of the reformist era and the eventual UNGASS outcomes. It concludes with a critical evaluation of civil society strategies and the relationship between idealistic strategies and the realities of national and international politics.

Findings

Rather than a failure of outcomes, UNGASS represented a failure of assumptions, strategic vision and ultimately expectations on the part of reform optimists. These groups ultimately created and became captive to a goal of formal systemic reforms, or treaty revisions, underpinned by a dogmatic assumption of “the inescapable logic of reform necessity”. This logic argued that highlighting treaty “breaches” and contradictions would be a sufficient condition to drive a formal UN system-wide re-evaluation of drug control. These failures of strategic assumptions and vision ultimately resulted in the sense of “failure” of UNGASS 2016.

Research limitations/implications

This research highlights the need to critically evaluate civil society strategies and desired outcomes with an eye to history, international relations and the realities of managing a complex global issue. The application of mono-causal explanations for individual state actions or international cooperation is shown to be vastly insufficient to explain, plan for or predict the outcomes of a complex multilateral framework. Furthermore, this paper highlights a research agenda on the role of civil society in drug policy formation and how this relates to the current policy and advocacy groupings among member states and interest groups at national and international levels.

Practical implications

This paper highlights a more realistic appraisal of the determinants of and possibilities to change international drug policy. It thereby utilises an impressionistic historical narrative of the UNGASS process to enable an evaluation of the frontiers of policy reform at the UN level and provide some guidance on the failures of past strategies and potential future directions of international drug control and reformist strategies.

Social implications

As highlighted in this paper, drug policy is an area where major policy failures are recognised within the current international approach. Experimentation with new tactics and strategies are needed to break out of the traditional prohibition-centric approach to this issue. The benefits of more successful policies would be felt though a lower level of harm from drug use, drug markets and drug policy. As such, a pragmatic understanding of how the international system might evolve to support new evidence-based approaches is crucial to developing a socially beneficial approach to drugs and drug policy.

Originality/value

The originality of this research lies in its blending of a historical evaluation of the role of civil society in the UN drug control system and the strategies of contemporary civil society actors around the UNGASS process. Thereby it allows a more critical evaluation of the strategic goals, assumptions and outcomes of reformist strategies in the recent era and potential strategies moving forward.

Details

Drugs and Alcohol Today, vol. 17 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1745-9265

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Book part
Publication date: 15 October 2018

Tom Blickman

This chapter looks at the past, present and future of international cannabis control required by the UN drug control conventions in the post-2016 United Nations General…

Abstract

This chapter looks at the past, present and future of international cannabis control required by the UN drug control conventions in the post-2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session era with an eye on the next High Level Ministerial Segment (HLMS) at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2019, and beyond. From a policy analysis perspective, the author meanders through the increasing tendency to legally regulate recreational cannabis markets notwithstanding the obligation enshrined in the UN drug control conventions to limit cannabis exclusively for ‘medical and scientific’ purposes. Taking into account relevant national and international developments, the chapter describes how the growing discomfort with the status of cannabis and the prohibitive and punitive approach stemming from the international drug control regime went through a process from soft to hard defections of the treaty obligations. The case of the Netherlands demonstrates the difficulty faced by reform-minded states in reconciling their wish for a different cannabis control mechanism with their obligations under international law, resulting in an incomplete regulation of its coffee-shop system, where small amounts of cannabis are tolerated for sale, but where the illicit supply to the shops remained unregulated. Subsequent more wide-ranging reforms to regulate cannabis from seed to sale in Uruguay, several US States and – in 2018 – in Canada, are clearly violating the obligations of the UN drug control conventions. Nevertheless, the HLMS will likely leave the elephant in the room untouched. The emerging paradigm shift regarding cannabis shows that a modernisation of the UN drug control regime is long overdue. This chapter discusses some of the options available.

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Collapse of the Global Order on Drugs: From UNGASS 2016 to Review 2019
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-78756-488-6

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Article
Publication date: 11 January 2016

Liz Austen

In 2013, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Durham, Ron Hogg, initiated a debate around the future of British drug policy. In June 2015, the Derbyshire PCC, Alan…

Abstract

Purpose

In 2013, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Durham, Ron Hogg, initiated a debate around the future of British drug policy. In June 2015, the Derbyshire PCC, Alan Charles, opened a similar debate with representatives from policing, third party support agencies, national advocates and academics to discuss the possibilities for change. This short paper presents the views and actions of senior figures in the police service and discusses motivations for pursuing change. The purpose of this paper is to introduce police and crime commissioners as “drug policy actors” (Seddon, 2011) and to highlight key areas for further academic enquiry.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper is based on press releases and media accounts of the recent activity of the PCCs in relation to national drug policy. This paper provides an academic viewpoint on recent events, supported by theoretical literature critiquing drug policy and contemporary policing.

Findings

This viewpoint articulates that motivations for pursuing a change in drug policy are based on both economic and ideological agendas of some PCCs. Irrespective of the motivation, pressure from PCCs and renowned Chief Constables may be more effective in initiating change than high-profile national campaigns and political debates.

Originality/value

This paper is the first of its kind to discuss the relationship between PCCs/local constabularies and drug policy reform. It provides a foundation for future research which could investigate views on alternatives to prohibition, specifically within the wider police force.

Details

Safer Communities, vol. 15 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1757-8043

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Article
Publication date: 7 September 2012

Pien Metaal

This article aims to give some background information about the debate around drug policies in Latin America and to provide a view on a possible future direction of the…

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Abstract

Purpose

This article aims to give some background information about the debate around drug policies in Latin America and to provide a view on a possible future direction of the developing debate.

Design/methodology/approach

Recently increasing signs coming from the highest political level indicate that current strategies are perceived as failed, and incentives for a debate on alternatives to prohibition should be discussed. The article reflects on the origin and conditions in which this debate is taking place, and the ideas, options and projection into the political institutions that are designed for that purpose. The article describes the process using existing and new materials and insights produced by scholars and participants in the Latin American drug policy debate.

Findings

The article finds that the impetus given to the drug policy reform debate has now reached a level, that it can no longer be avoided to talk openly at the highest political level, about alternatives to current drug policy strategies, based mainly on prohibition.

Originality/value

The article connects recent drug policy debates into a historical perspective, and helps to underscore the need for these reforms, as a solution for the problems faced by Latin American countries, such as increased levels of violence related to the drugs market.

Details

Drugs and Alcohol Today, vol. 12 no. 3
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1745-9265

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Article
Publication date: 10 July 2020

Ediomo-Ubong Nelson and Isidore Obot

The purpose of this paper is to discuss priorities for effective responses to illicit drugs in West Africa in a changing international policy environment.

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to discuss priorities for effective responses to illicit drugs in West Africa in a changing international policy environment.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper analyzes published research, technical papers and reports on drug use and policy responses in West Africa and opines on priorities for drug policy in the region within the post-United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) 2016 policy environment.

Findings

Drug use and related harms continue to increase in West African countries despite efforts to reduce drug trafficking and use through legal prohibition. The UNGASS 2016 outcome document enables flexibility in policy interpretation and implementation, which provides an opportunity for governments to prioritize national needs in drug policy. West African countries should prioritize and support research and data collection, prevention, treatment and harm reduction and sustainable livelihoods.

Originality/value

The paper emphasizes the need for West African countries to seize the opportunity created by the ineffectiveness and weakening of the prohibition regime as well as new treaty flexibility following UNGASS 2016 to reform drug policies to prioritize regional and national needs.

Details

Drugs and Alcohol Today, vol. 20 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1745-9265

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Open Access
Book part
Publication date: 19 November 2020

Imani Robinson

This chapter paints a picture of the war on drugs, and the structures of prohibition and punishment that drive it, as extensions of broader systems of state and…

Abstract

This chapter paints a picture of the war on drugs, and the structures of prohibition and punishment that drive it, as extensions of broader systems of state and interpersonal violence. I outline the failures of prohibition through the criminalisation of drug-related activities and put forward a framework for harm reduction that has as its foundation a radical critique of punishment in all spheres of our lives. This chapter urges those who advocate for drug policy reform to build broader alliances with the many communities around the world that organise against the continuation of the prison industrial complex (PIC) as a whole, including: people in prison, gendered, racialised and LGBTQI+ communities, sex workers and prison abolitionists. I conclude by offering a vision for abolitionist drug policy, whose ultimate goal is to resist the expansion of the PIC globally and in doing so, to foster greater community resilience both across difference and beyond our increasingly siloed fields of expertise. As drug policy experts, the author can choose to situate the millions of people who use drugs worldwide within global contexts of ongoing state violence and control, so that the reforms the author advocate for match the fullness and complexity of the people and worlds the author are fighting for and tackle the root causes of the many harms our communities face.

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The Impact of Global Drug Policy on Women: Shifting the Needle
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-83982-885-0

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Article
Publication date: 5 June 2017

Steve Rolles

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…

Abstract

Purpose

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.

Design/methodology/approach

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

Findings

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.

Originality/value

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

Details

Drugs and Alcohol Today, vol. 17 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1745-9265

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Book part
Publication date: 15 October 2018

Mikhail Golichenko, Anya Sarang, Khalid Tinasti and Isabela Barbosa

The United Nations General Assembly Special Session on drugs has provided countries with internationally agreed recommendations to adapt their drug policies for more…

Abstract

The United Nations General Assembly Special Session on drugs has provided countries with internationally agreed recommendations to adapt their drug policies for more efficiency and better outcomes. This chapter focusses on the Russian Federation’s role in international drug policy, through an analysis of its national approaches and their design, as well as on its diplomatic efforts at the bilateral and multilateral levels to oppose drug policy reform. A systematic review of peer-reviewed, grey literature, policy documents, UN reports and news reports on the country’s response to drugs internally and externally was conducted between September and December 2017. Despite its efforts to oppose drug policy reform and the prioritisation of public health, the Russian Federation faces major epidemics of imprisonment and HIV. Internationally, while it has not been successful in addressing the ongoing reforms in Europe and the Americas, it has been effective in preserving its international priorities by opposing harm reduction and maintaining the prohibition paradigm at the multilateral level.

Details

Collapse of the Global Order on Drugs: From UNGASS 2016 to Review 2019
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-78756-488-6

Keywords

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