More of the same or inching towards change?

More of the same or inching towards change?

Last week, SSDP made its grand debut at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna, Austria.  This wasn’t the first time that SSDP had participated in the proceedings (many NGO representatives remembered Kris Krane’s much-lauded intervention in the “Beyond 2008” discussions), however it was the first time that SSDP arrived bearing Special Consultative Status from the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

When you enter the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting, the number of suits in the room first strikes you—and then you sit for a bit and (at least in my case) you are overcome by a huge wave of depression.  The system is so entrenched and so rigid that it feels like change will never come.  Even with that feeling, I settled into my seat to see what the day would bring.  The most exciting part of the opening speeches was when Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, urged member states to reconsider the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs due to its rigidity.  In 2009, Bolivia withdrew from the Convention because of the cultural role of the coca leaf in Bolivian society.  Bolivia is seeking to re-enter into the Convention with a reservation regarding coca.  This would allow them to grow a certain amount of coca for their internal demand, while still remaining committed to the eradication of other crops and the war on drugs.  Many by-standers applauded when President Morales brought out several products made from coca and while it was interesting, he began his speech by highlighting the eradication and interdiction efforts in Bolivia.  It was clear that he was still trying to play by the rules of the game, while carving out a space for his domestic needs, because this is how politics is done, I guess.

As the days went on, resolutions were watered-down by member states; and side events were conducted; and informal dialogues were held between NGO representatives and top UNODC officials.  Amidst all this activity, my hope began to return.  SSDP was welcomed into conversations and we asked tough questions when given the opportunity.  We heard about how countries are trying alternative models, such as Portugal, the Czech Republic and Switzerland.  SSDP in conjunction with the Youth Organization for Drug Action, hosted a side event where we presented a video project that featured five of our international chapters.  The video highlighted how drug policy is affecting young people around the world.  Feedback was positive and constructive and we will expand the project to be used by all chapters when discussing global drug policy.

It is clear that youth presence at the CND meeting is crucial in changing policy—and hearts and minds—regarding the failed war on drugs.  Children and youth were consistently invoked as needing to be protected, with little time being spent on how the policy has harmed communities.  It is the role of SSDP and our partner organizations to bring that perspective and increase youth presence in these forums.

I suppose the first impression of any large bureaucracy can be intimidating, but once we got over the initial misgivings, our SSDP members jumped headfirst because we have nothing to lose by participating and they have everything to gain by listening to the youth voice.

We have only just begun.

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