Attending the United Nations Thematic Debate on Drugs and Crime

On June 26th, 2012, I had the honor of attending the United Nations Thematic Debate on Drugs and Crime as a Threat to Development. As the newly elected Columbia University Chapter Vice President of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), I knew the insight gained from a meeting such as this would be invaluable for serving my term. The day kicked off with a meet and greet hosted by Aaron Houston, the Executive Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Aaron helped prepare us by offering advice and strategies on speaking with delegates and high-level individuals. Since we were representing SSDP at the debate, Aaron took care to alleviate any anxieties we might have.

After the group completed the security check-in, we made our way to a large conference room and quickly found the NGO section. After opening remarks from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), a panel took the floor. Following panel remarks, member nations began to speak on the issue at hand.

I was immediately interested in the remarks of H.E. Harold Caballeros, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala to the General Assembly of the United Nations. He spoke about Guatemala’s geopolitical location with regard to drugs and crime. Being situated in between the United States and what he called “the biggest drug-producing market in the world,” Guatemala finds itself exposed to the many negative ramifications of such a position. Such consequences include a high proportion of drug trafficking and violent crimes associated with this as well as a significant rise in local consumption of drugs. What I remember most is his remark that, “the prohibitionist and punitive orientation on the drug issue has failed.” This criticism stood out because it was in stark contrast with comments by other member-states who were focused on presenting statistics as evidence to affirm that their current drug policies were indeed effective. Guatemala’s full statement is available on the UNODC website and I would encourage anyone to read it.

As various diplomats and delegates continued to speak, one trend I noticed was that many appeared to use the phrase “evidence-based interventions” in the dialogue. Nearly everyone in attendance seemed to agree upon this notion with regard to the approach on drugs and crime, however, it is clear that a universal methodology needs to be applied. Evidence, as the determining factor for the basis of policy, is not enough. For example, Uruguay has taken the approach that evidence suggests marijuana is less harmful if legalized and regulated vs. being sold on the black market while positing that by monitoring sales, it will remove a significant source of funding for criminal networks. In contrast, the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), in their statement submitted by General Arthur T. Dean, Chairman and CEO, asserted that evidence shows that community coalitions have been proven to reduce drug use and abuse and that individual drug consumption is not a right; furthermore, they reject the assertion that drug consequences can be easily overlooked. This therefore sets them in opposition to Uruguay’s innovative approach. With the ever-increasing threat to development that drugs and crime presents, international cooperation is vital on this issue. This is especially true as the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals is quickly approaching. There has to be a general consensus of the kind of evidence that will be used to combat crime. If the international community is to truly embrace an evidence-based approach to drugs and crime, the foundational methodology must be developed further.

Overall, I learned a great deal about the complications and dynamics of this issue and realized that we have a long way to go in creating sensible drug policies. Due to the timely nature of this discussion and its importance, many of the participants in attendance wished to make comments and unfortunately time lapsed before SSDP could speak. Given that last summer, the United Nations Economic and Social Council granted SSDP consultative status, I look forward to future opportunities for SSDP members to partake in events such as these, where we are given a voice to help shape meaningful policy that has affected all of us in various ways.

by Mahogany Wright

Senior majoring in Human Rights with a concentration in Political Science at Columbia University ’13