UN Fails To Spur Drug Policy Reform
3 min

UN Fails To Spur Drug Policy Reform

3 min
Legislation News

Drugs are an issue that is not going anywhere. Instead of stepping up and getting a handle on the problem, the UN has decided to bury its head in the sand.

There is an undeniable momentum behind the movement to see drug policy reformed – you only need look at the revolution cannabis is going through. Science is showing that a focus on harm reduction over a focus on criminal punishment works best when it comes to drugs. It is knowledge that is slowly but surely spreading, with more and more prominent figures, as well as larger segments of the public as a whole, calling for drug laws to be reassessed. Despite this, the UN seems to want to cling on to the old ways of thinking, as the recent UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) fails to any meaningful change.

For many, the news has come as a major disappointment. It was a sorely missed opportunity, and chance for the world to band together and sound the death knell for the War on Drugs. Instead of a large debate, involving the UN assembly, key public figures, scientists, and specialists, the special assembly adopted a new outcome document within a horrifying 2 minutes. No discussion, no input, just a new slightly altered stance predetermined by a select few before the session took place. Democracy at its finest…

The document makes no mention or acknowledgment of adopting harm reducing approaches, the damage caused by the criminalisation of drug users, nor the human rights abuse that often results from it. Nor does the document address the more barbaric acts carried out in the name of prohibition, such as the internationally illegal act of executing drug users.

The only thing UNGASS has achieved is showing just how out of touch the higher echelons of global government are. The wilful ignorance of the document calls into question the very point of holding the assembly in the first place; it certainly hasn’t appeased or fooled anyone.


Despite the fact the politicians of the UN seem blissfully unaware of what is happening in the world, key business and world leaders are not. A number of public figures have condemned the outcome of the assembly in multiple press conferences. In fact, the leaders of the Global Commission on Drug Policy slammed the results, stating it had failed to improve international drugs policy in any way.

Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland, said, “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 politic that is absolutely necessary.”

Whereas Richard Branson, multi-billionaire businessman and reform advocate branded the outcome as ““long on rhetoric, very short on substance” and “out of step with mounting evidence and public sentiment.”

It is a stance mimicked by many, including the former presidents of Mexico and Colombia, as well as a former deputy Prime Minster of the UK. Of course, scientific think tanks, policy advisors, and health professionals have also been outraged, with the Beckley Foundation publishing an open letter for people to print out and send to politicians in protest.


Another large and possibly unintended outcome of the UN’s lack of willingness to do anything is the undermining of international law. Whether the UN is willing to make a change or not, change is happening. As more countries begin to experiment with liberalising drug laws themselves, they fly in the face of international convention – calling its relevance into question.

Louise Arbour, former Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court and former UN high commissioner for Human Rights, has said that the UNGASS result has left countries with few options. They can either denounce the conventions governing international drug law, which would be a “very serious move that could encourage other countries to walk away from other international commitments” or else, “pretend they’re in compliance, which we know they’re not.”

She went on to say that the UN’s decision to continue to bind member states to the current regressive policy is “a pretty sobering statement for people like me, who have always worked within legal systems.”


Despite the fact that the UN seems too rigid to adapt to the change clearly taking place in the world, we can take heart in the knowledge that it is a change that will not be stopped. The world will never be drug-free; it never has been, and it is foolish to think it will – if anything, prohibition makes the situation worse! At some point, the scales will tip and the aspect of society that continue to hold firm on their backward views will have no choice but to change. It all happens on the back of concrete scientific evidence, for which we are seeing a growing mountain of positive research – especially where things like cannabis, magic mushrooms, and LSD are concerned.

It would appear the drug revolution is not going to happen from a top-down approach, and instead needs to happen with the people – as has been the case where reform has already taken place. You only need to look at the US, where cannabis legalisation has largely been the results of public campaigning. It may be the case that those in power have too much of a vested interest in seeing prohibition maintained, and it will fall to the normal person, who only has societies best interest at heart, to make the move.

Irrespective, the world cries out for drug policy reform, with the voice getting louder with each passing day, each passing scientific study, and each passing report on the social impact of the War on Drugs. If the UN cannot adapt, it will get left behind.

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