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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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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

Ricky Gunawan and Gloria Lai

In the years leading up to United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS), Southeast Asia drew the attention of the drug policy world because of its refusal to…

Abstract

In the years leading up to United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS), Southeast Asia drew the attention of the drug policy world because of its refusal to drop the goal of becoming a drug-free region and for the extreme methods used in striving to achieve it. This chapter presents an analysis of the official positions taken by governments in the regional body known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations from before until after the UNGASS in the context of one of the most punitive drug policy environments in the world and offers a perspective on what we could expect from them in 2019.

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

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Book part
Publication date: 18 November 2020

Summer Walker

This chapter explores the relationship between the global drug policy agenda and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Development is one of the key…

Abstract

This chapter explores the relationship between the global drug policy agenda and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Development is one of the key pillars of the UN's charter; however, sustainable development and drug policy have existed in separate policy spaces for decades. During 2015 and 2016, two parallel processes took place at the UN – the adoption of the 2015 SDGs, superseding the Millennium Development Goals, and the 2016 UN Special Session on the world drug problem (UNGASS), a global convening of countries to create a way forward to address illicit drugs. This chapter explores how a group of reform-oriented countries, UN agencies and civil society stakeholders used the UNGASS to advocate for better policy alignment with development principles. While some headway was made, tensions remain about allowing a development approach into the drug policy realm. This chapter argues that given strong pushback to maintain a law enforcement-driven agenda by many countries, better alignment will not happen without more clarity on what sustainable development–driven drug policy is and without champions to push these ideas in the drug policy arena.

Details

The Emerald Handbook of Crime, Justice and Sustainable Development
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-78769-355-5

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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

Zara Snapp and Jorge Herrera Valderrábano

This chapter explores the historical context of drug control in the United States, the ongoing regulation of the cannabis market at the State level and the role of the…

Abstract

This chapter explores the historical context of drug control in the United States, the ongoing regulation of the cannabis market at the State level and the role of the United States in the international negotiations related to the United Nations General Assembly Special Sessions (UNGASS) on drugs in 1998 and 2016. We continue by analysing the position, allies and activities of the United States before and during UNGASS 2016 to provide an understanding of possible scenarios related to the 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action review to take place via a High-level Ministerial Segment within the 2019 Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting. While US drug policy is not expected to positively shift in the next few years, State-level regulation of cannabis is expected to continue and create pressure from below.

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

Mike Trace

The purpose of this paper is to indicate the outcomes, implications and possibilities for responses arising from the April 2016 UNGASS meeting and statement and to…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to indicate the outcomes, implications and possibilities for responses arising from the April 2016 UNGASS meeting and statement and to identify areas for future continuation of the debate and dialogue established at UNGASS.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper is a practitioner and participant commentary on the implications and openings for governments and jurisdictions of a revised international policy framework.

Findings

The UNGASS statement represented an increased emphasis on health and human rights considerations and a de facto flexibility of interpretation and implementation by national governments. The statement reconciled considerable differences of approach and expectation by the participating governments and organisations. Future developments are identified and practical responses outlined. There has been some move away from rigid prohibition and authoritarian stances.

Research limitations/implications

The points made could be developed and expanded by academics and NGOs.

Practical implications

Future areas for continued international policy development and governments’ activity are identified. Governments are encouraged to consider their national needs and priorities and the ways in which these can contribute to and be strengthened by and in the international conventions.

Social implications

The ability of governments to respond to national needs and situations has been strengthened and an increased emphasis on public health and harm reduction practices is implied. Policy pluralism is recognised.

Originality/value

The paper represents an assessment of the outcomes and future potential for development of the international conventions. It is written by a long-standing participant in the international drugs policy debate and is an early contribution to the practical and formative response to UNGASS.

Details

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

Keywords

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Book part
Publication date: 15 October 2018

David R. Bewley-Taylor and Marie Nougier

This chapter analyses major issues surrounding the Annual Report Questionnaire (ARQ) – the key mechanism through which the UN collects data on various facets of the…

Abstract

This chapter analyses major issues surrounding the Annual Report Questionnaire (ARQ) – the key mechanism through which the UN collects data on various facets of the world’s illicit drug market. As the ARQ is currently under review by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the authors suggest ways to incorporate the gains made at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem.

The UNGASS Outcome Document has, to certain degree, enabled the international community to move away from the simplistic goals of a drug-free world enshrined in the 2009 Political Declaration and towards a more comprehensive health- and human rights-based approach. The UNGASS has also laid important groundwork for the 2019 Ministerial Segment, where member states will delineate the global drug control approach for the next decade. In this context, the issue of metrics and indicators has a critical political role to play as it will shape how member states will measure progress against their international drug control commitments.

Starting with a review of the ‘triple trouble’ – poor data quality, low response rates from Member States and other inconsistencies that have long persisted with the ARQ – the chapter moves on to offer substantive critiques on the content of the Questionnaire and ways to better incorporate issues related to health, human rights and development. The chapter concludes by providing guidance on possible synergies with the Outcome Document and the Sustainable Development Goals, bringing international drug control in line with the UN Charter.

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

Leandre Banon and Maria-Goretti Ane

As in other parts of the world, the ‘war on drugs’ in West Africa has led to significant focus on criminal justice, compromising public health and human rights without…

Abstract

As in other parts of the world, the ‘war on drugs’ in West Africa has led to significant focus on criminal justice, compromising public health and human rights without reducing the scale of drug trafficking, production and use. West Africa is not only a transit zone, local production and consumption continue to rise unabated. The Economic Community of West African States has described drug issues as the enemy of the state and the rule of law, and has called on members States to fight the ‘scourge’.

The failure of the current policies has been vividly documented by the West Africa Commission on Drugs through its 2014 report titled ‘‘Not Just in Transit: Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa’’.

In response, civil society organisations and activists have contributed to raising awareness of the harm being caused by the current repressive drug policies in West Africa and engaged their respective national governments in evidence-based drug policy reform.

These engagements culminated in regional consultations that gave birth to the West African Common Position for the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) with a call for harm reduction and an evidence based drug policy for the region. Unfortunately, the UNGASS outcome was not as revolutionary as expected by the West African progressive voices, who have therefore continued to engage their governments to make the 2019 High Level Ministerial segment a turning point in the global drug debate.

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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