Prospects for Treaty Reform and UN System-Wide Coherence on Drug Policy
Improving Global Drug Policy: Comparative Perspectives and UNGASS 2016
Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence
Latin America Initiative
In April 2016, the United Nations (UN) will dedicate, for the third time in its history, a Special Session of the
General Assembly (UNGASS) to review the performance of the UN drug control system and provide an oppor
tunity for improving the UN’s normative guidance and legal and institutional framework.
Initiatives taken at UNGASS 1990 to develop a UN system-wide coherent drug policy failed dramatically over
the following decade.
UNGASS 1998 supported the quixotic goal of a drug-free world by setting 2008 as the target to “eliminate or
significantly reduce” the global illicit drugs market.
Rather than admitting that progress toward the target had not been made, United Nations Office on Drugs and
Crime has promoted a “containment” hypothesis, claiming the “undeniable success” of a century of interna
tional drug control.
Present divides in global drug policy preclude any significant progress on a new UNGASS political declaration
through consensus-driven negotiations.
Controversial issues like cannabis regulation and treaty reform are unlikely to appear prominently on the UN
GASS 2016 agenda.
Legal arguments denying conflict between cannabis regulation and the strictures of the UN conventions are
By stretching the treaty-flexibility approach beyond the legally defensible, the United States is reverting to selec
tive adherence to international law based on political expedience.
The drug control conventions lack built-in review mechanisms to enable the system’s evolution, but there
are several treaty reform options that do not require consensus, such as the rescheduling of substances.
may offer an attractive interim option for like-minded countries to legitimize legal
regulation of the cannabis market under international law by modifying the treaty only between them
An expert advisory group should be established to review the UN drug control architecture, system-wide
incoherence, treaty inconsistencies, and legal tensions regarding cannabis regulation.
The Civil Society Task Force should be supported in its efforts to ensure meaningful participation from
nongovernmental organizations in the UNGASS 2016 process.
Member states should heed Ban Ki-moon’s urgent plea that they use UNGASS 2016 “to conduct a
wide-ranging and open debate that considers all options.”