Friday, June 28, 2013

Ban Ki-moon calls for "all options" to be considered in drug policy debate

It was welcome to note that during a special event held to mark the Unite Nations International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26th, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared:

“Next year, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs will conduct a high-level review. This will be followed, in 2016, by the UN General Assembly Special Session on the issue. I urge Member States to use these opportunities to conduct a wide-ranging and open debate that considers all options.”
His call for a “wide-ranging and open debate that considers all options” is certainly a welcome development, one that strikes the same note as the Count the Costs campaign statement:

“The 'war on drugs' is a policy choice. There are other options that, at the very least, should be debated and explored using the best possible evidence and analysis. We all share the same goals – a safer, healthier and more just world. 

Therefore, we the undersigned, call upon world leaders and UN agencies to quantify the unintended negative consequences of the current approach to drugs, and assess the potential costs and benefits of alternative approaches”
The Secretary General's remarks echo the positive sentiments he and other high level UN officials have previously expressed regarding the need for a re-think of current policy, and an openess to explore alternative approaches.

In recent years the push for more pragmatic debate around alternative paths for drug control at the UN level have primarily come from Latin American leaders. During the 67th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2012 the presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala challenged the current policy framework in the face of its obvious failures and mounting costs. 

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos urged a reassessment stating that "It is our duty to determine - on an objective scientific basis - if we are doing the best we can or if there are better options to combat this scourge", while Mexican President Felipe Calderon explicitly called on the United Nations to lead a global debate over a less "prohibitionist" approach to drugs.

In recent years increasing numbers of incumbent and former heads of state from all various parts of the world are starting to speak out in favour of reform, and the high-level debate regarding alternatives to the current prohibitionist approach gained further prominence after the recent publication of the groundbreaking report by the Organization of American States.

Let’s hope that this rhetorical shift at the highest level of global policy making will translate into meaningful debate and positive outcomes in the run up to the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016, which is set to "review the current policies and strategies to confront the global drug problem".

It is clear that more and more government and UN leaders, now including the UN Secretary General himself, accept the need for change and are taking the first tentative steps to begin the process of reform at the highest level. 

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