The United Nations last week convened for a three-day summit to address changing attitudes regarding approaches to the United Nations drugs policy. The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, held Tuesday through Thursday pushed for a less punitive approach to drug policy, in favor of viewing it more as a public health issue.
Multiple foreign ministers weighed in on such issues as the legalization of cannabis, the curtailing of the power of drug cartels, widespread abuse of harmful drugs, and tackling the proliferation of drug addiction, among many others.
“Drug abuse has become a multi-dimensional problem across the globe, posing a great threat to our civilization. The use of various kinds of drugs is not only putting young men and women in problems but also ruining them and their families. Therefore, we need to address such grave problem with collective political will at all levels.” – Kamal Thapa, Nepal’s deputy prime minister & foreign minister.
The United Nations drugs policy on cannabis
Some of the session’s participants used the forum to discuss the issue of cannabis legalization.
Several representatives announced changes to their countries’ cannabis laws. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced his country’s plans to legalize cannabis-derived medicines.
Canada’s representative at the session, Canadian Health Minister Jane Philpott, took the opportunity to announce that the Canadian government would push to legalize and regulate cannabis by the spring of next year.
“Our approach to drugs must be comprehensive, collaborative, and compassionate,” she said. It must respect human rights while promoting shared responsibility. And it must have a firm scientific foundation. In Canada, we will apply those principles with regard to marijuana.” – Philpott
Ultimately, however, the session was unable to come to an agreement that fully addressed the litany of problems facing the world community when it comes to drugs. One such area that went unsolved was the use of capital punishment in combating the spread of drugs: in one noteworthy moment indicative of the philosophical differences, an Indonesian representative called capital punishment “an important component” of drug policy, a remark that received boos from the audience.
The session faced heavy criticism from many observers and activists. Billionaire mogul Richard Branson criticized the session afterward as failing to truly address the problems at hand in a meaningful way.
Richard Branson has been a vocal supporter of drug laws reform. He said this at a press conference following UNGASS’s conclusion:
“UNGASS was flawed from the start. The process was a closed-door affair and excluded important voices from across the UN and civil society.” – Branson
Business leaders and activists were not the only ones pessimistic about the ultimate impact of UNGASS: even prominent politicians were skeptical of its efficacy.
“We are not expecting a lot from UNGASS. In this sense, our provision is what the reality is: that the world community is not ready, is not willing, to have the change of politics that is absolutely necessary.” – Ruth Dreifuss, former president of Switzerland. “
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