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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.

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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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

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

Caroline Chatwin

This chapter provides a critical exploration of the European Union’s impact on the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) proceedings and Outcome…

Abstract

This chapter provides a critical exploration of the European Union’s impact on the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) proceedings and Outcome document. It demonstrates that the ability to produce a European ‘common position’ ahead of the UNGASS debates represents a significant step forward in the ability to ‘speak with one voice’ in the global illicit drug policy arena, and has played an important role in ensuring key issues such as human rights and public health remain on the agenda. In highlights, however, a European failure to engage with issues such as the continuing suitability of the international drug conventions to preside over the current climate of drug policy innovation and experimentation, and the unintended consequences of a ‘war on drugs’ approach. Ultimately, therefore, it argues that these failures will hamper the development of a more progressive and effective global drug policy.

Details

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

Keywords

Content available
Book part
Publication date: 19 November 2020

Abstract

Details

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

David R. Bewley-Taylor

The purpose of this paper is to examine the extent to which the dominant metrics currently used to measure the success of the UN based global drug prohibition regime are…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine the extent to which the dominant metrics currently used to measure the success of the UN based global drug prohibition regime are in many ways inadequate and consequently contribute to systemic inertia. Within this context, it seeks to explore the potential of explicitly linking drug policy to the recently launched sustainable development agenda (SDA) and the associated sustainable development goals (SDGs) to initiate a change in approach.

Design/methodology/approach

Framing the topic in terms of international relations (IR) and regime analysis, prominent examples of where current metrics are imprecise (the relationship between production and seizures), misconceived (drug use) and missing (a range of drug and drug policy related harms) are explored. Attention is then given to an examination of international development as a model for measuring drug control outcomes, including a discussion of the SDGs in general and the intersection between drug policy interventions and several goals in particular.

Findings

While aware of the complexity of the issue area, the paper finds that there are considerable shortcomings in the way international drug policy outcomes are currently assessed. Although methodological problems are likely to persist, linking drug policy with the SDGs and their associated metrics offers the potential to help to shift the focus of international policy in a manner that would benefit not only UN system-wide coherence on the issue, but also assist in the achievement of the regime’s own overarching goal; to safeguard the “health and welfare” of humankind.

Practical implications

With the next high-level review of international drug policy due to take place in 2019, the paper offers policy makers with a way to begin to refocus drug policy metrics, and subsequently review outcomes, in line with the UN system-wide SDA.

Originality/value

As an emerging domain of inquiry, the paper not only explores a hitherto largely unexplored – yet increasingly important – facet of UN level policy evaluation, formulation and implementation, but also helps to fill a gap in the IR literature on regime dynamics.

Content available
Book part
Publication date: 19 November 2020

Julia Buxton and Lona Burger

This chapter explores the norms and assumptions that frame and sustain international drug policy and the international drug control regime. Drug policy is conceptualised…

Abstract

This chapter explores the norms and assumptions that frame and sustain international drug policy and the international drug control regime. Drug policy is conceptualised as a ‘policy fiasco’ that persists despite extensive evidence of goal failure. The absence of effective monitoring and evaluation, impact assessment, stakeholder participation and mainstreaming of rights-based approaches, conflict sensitivity and gender sensitivity is emphasised, substantiating the argument that drug policy is a case study of ‘institutional path dependence’. Drug policy has repeatedly missed targets for achievement of a ‘drug free world’. This is explained through reference to the counterproductive and ‘unintended consequences’ of a drug policy approach of criminalisation. The impacts of drug policy enforcement are shown to be negative, pernicious and disproportionately born by the poor, by vulnerable communities and those subject to discrimination on account of race, gender and class.

Details

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

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Book part
Publication date: 15 October 2018

Axel Klein and Blaine Stothard

The landscape for international drug policy is shifting rapidly as the tensions between the objectives, assumptions and activities that are being introduced at local level…

Abstract

The landscape for international drug policy is shifting rapidly as the tensions between the objectives, assumptions and activities that are being introduced at local level are tearing apart the assumptions on which the system was founded. Countries are divided into camps that pursue different aims with drug policy. In addition to an established distinction between those that seek to reduce drug harms and those pursuing a vision of a drug-free world, some UN member states have established licit markets for products that the conventions hold are available for medical and scientific purposes. This incongruence is matched by states in the other camp who apply capital and corporal punishment ostensibly in pursuit of a public health objective. These differences over underlying values, but also in the use of evidence, and interpreting the purpose of the drug control system are no longer reconcilable. While there is pressure on maintaining the system, it no longer serves an organic function and continues mainly for the benefit of constituent members. With the dissolution of US leadership, drug policy is no longer operating within an effective international framework.

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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Article
Publication date: 25 February 2014

Blaine Stothard

The purpose of this paper is to inform readers of developments in drug policy debate in Australia following the publication of the Global Commission Report. To explain the…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to inform readers of developments in drug policy debate in Australia following the publication of the Global Commission Report. To explain the activities, discussions and findings of events organised by the Australian NGO Australia21. To provide some key contextual information and references.

Design/methodology/approach

Overview of international situation following publication of Global Commission Report. Summary of current Australian national policy and its origins. Summary of recent national reports and their impact on policy. Account of NGO reports and recommendations.

Findings

Civil society agencies have entered national debate on drug policy and recommended an abandonment of prohibition-based approaches, using the Global Commission Report as a catalyst. First steps have been taken to introduce this debate into the Australian parliament.

Research limitations/implications

Incomplete knowledge of relevant national documentation.

Practical implications

Probable delay in government developing debate and acting on recommendations in an election year.

Originality/value

Case study of developments and debate in one jurisdiction resulting from Global Commission Report. Aligns with similar debate and moves in other nations. Adds to knowledge of developments which challenge existing international policy debate and practical approaches which reject prohibition.

Details

Drugs and Alcohol Today, vol. 14 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1745-9265

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Book part
Publication date: 15 October 2018

Maziyar Ghiabi

States in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have historically leaned towards conservative, reactionary models of drugs policy. The combination of authoritarian forms…

Abstract

States in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have historically leaned towards conservative, reactionary models of drugs policy. The combination of authoritarian forms of government, whether dynastic monarchies (Morocco, Jordan and Persian Gulf countries), semi-military republics (Syria, Egypt and Algeria) or religiously sanctioned republics (Iran), with the strong influence of Islamic law and norms, has signified that the region has enforced strict forms of drug prohibitions. For that matter, the region is home to cultural and social norms that are less permissive than in other regions of the world: for instance, with regard to premarital sex, homosexuality, clothing, alcoholic drinks and freedom of expression. This image of the MENA region is often overplayed by media commentators and Western scholars, especially in the field of drugs policy. The almost total absence of studies of drugs policy or drugs history in the MENA, excluding works in epidemiology, speaks well about the oblivion to which the region has been relegated over the last decades. The chapter provides first a background on the main questions regarding MENA drugs policy, looking at the historical developments in drug regulations and drug trends. Then, it discusses the current policies that operate across the region and, if pertinent, the prospects of policy development. When necessary, the argument refers to contextual elements that have influenced the direction in national and transitional drugs policy. Conscious of the fact that the MENA is as vast and diverse as a continent, I have opted to focus on three paradigmatic cases (Iran, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia), which provide an adequate geographical and thematic coverage of the MENA drugs policy. The three cases cover different aspects of today’s MENA drugs policy spectrum, from draconian repressive measures to progressive harm reduction programmes. Taken in their geographical dimension one can appreciate the variety and difference that exists within the MENA region, therefore supporting one of the key objectives of this chapter, which is to provide a nuanced analysis of drugs policy against the grain of homogenising and culturally reductive approaches.

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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