Identifying the Key Issues for the UNGASS 2016 Debate

Organized by the Global Commission on Drug Policy and the Governments of Switzerland, Guatemala and the Netherlands.

P. van Wulfften Palthe – First priority is a public health approach to drugs. Access to medication is a second priority. Third priority is rethinking criminalization of drug sue.

Ruth Dreifuss – We need to analyze what fifty years of international drug control has brought, in terms of positives and negatives. Discussion about what was achieved or needs to be achieved cannot be since just 1998, as this is what 2019 is for. UNGASS provides us with the unique opportunity to discuss the whole history and our experiences over the long-term. UNGASS provides us the opportunity to exchange experiences without taboo. Need to go in depth at the UNGASS about harm reduction and what it means. It means allowing people to protect themselves and protect the people with whom they are living. We will have to share these experiences. We also need to discuss and share experiences about treatment. What does treatment mean? Does it only include treatment with the goal of abstention, or with the goal of a stabilized life? Difficulty of having real prevention. Not many countries are proud of the way they do drug prevention. Countries are still fighting to find the real effective way at prevention. We will have to share our experiences about this as well. The final declaration from the UNGASS is not what is important, but the results we can bring home from knowing better the successes and the failures of drug policies around the world.

Olusegun Obasanjo – Speak from the unique perspective of transit countries and based on experiences as former Chairperson of the West Africa Commission on Drugs. Drugs go along with a lot of other criminal activities. Drugs are never just in transit, they also are consumed, leading to drug addiction and crimes. There is evidence of drug money influencing or trying to influence the political situation. The issue of drugs is the same as the issues of health and development. Drugs impact governments and economic development. Those who are penalized are the petty users, petty sellers, the big leaders have the money and connections to avoid justice. Need more involvement from civil society. Consumer countries need to take a bigger responsibility, as there has been too much focus on supply reduction.

Cesar Gaviria – Drugs is a high priority issue in Latin America today. We in Colombia only used to know about fighting cartels, but we have started to learn about how to deal with this problem, such as how Europe and the US were dealing with the drug problem. Particularly this idea that you cannot look for the best policy, but for the least harmful policy. There is not a perfect policy. The only thing you can get is something that does not get more harm, such as increased corruption or damage to democratic institutions. Easy to say that we have to comply with the conventions and that is the only thing that is important, but on the ground we see thousands and thousand of people killed. This is a significant problem that cannot be ignored. The only solution we have is looking to the US and Europe to begin thinking about how to reduce consumption and therefore start to save lives in Latin America. Most people is US want legalization, they know the war on drugs doesn’t work. We cannot sit here and say everything is fine. The war on drugs as it is today has failed. We cannot pretend that the US is not moving towards legalization of cannabis, and maybe other drugs. Things are changing fast, and the UNGASS needs to take this into consideration. At least we have the right to experiment, like what Uruguay is doing. The first violator of the conventions is the US. Cannot legalize one part, like consumption, and keep other parts, like production, illegal on the international stage. Latin America doesn’t criminalize people who use drugs, but in the US, the justice system functions like that. The objectives of the conventions, a drug free world, is a utopia, it is unrealistic, untrue, and unachievable. Humanity has lived through millenniums using drugs, and we need regulation. We can’t say everything is fine, because that is not true.

Peter Dunne – Conventions are over fifty years old, and we are questioning whether they are still relevant. The era of the conventions has long since passed us by. What can we seek collectively at the UNGASS that will provide the guidance, regulation, and environment that we want moving forwards? Three pillars: compassion, innovation, and proportion. New Zealand focuses on supply control initiatives, demand reduction initiatives, and we also speak about problem limitation initiatives. That third pillar is where we put in a sense of perspective. The major drug problem that faces most countries in the world is alcohol. We need to broaden the definition of harm minimization beyond just the user, but also to the family, community, and society generally. Recognizing the huge changes that are taking place, such as new psychoactive substances, needs to be done at the UNGASS. Need to focus on the broader convention framework and how fit it is for this day and age. We also need to think about new formulations that are coming along, and what we can do to minimize the spread of new psychoactive substances. We need some look at the current effectiveness and relevance of the conventions, and a strong focus on evidence-based solutions. The war on drugs hasn’t worked. We need to think of alternative solutions. We need to have compassion and hope to deal with the people that are most affected by drugs and drug policies. We need our policies to target the big dealers, not the petty dealers. UNGASS provides us with a powerful opportunity to think again about our strategies, how they should be applied, and what benefits we can deliver to those we seek to represent. The problem is not going to go away, it will only keep changing and evolving. We need to stop seeking an absolute end to drugs.

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