Students of our far-reaching international network embark to Vienna to the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs this week to deliver a panel presentation entitled “Protecting Youth with Drug Policy: Criminalisation has Failed.” The event is being organised by members of SSDP’s International Outreach Committee composed of SSDP Canada, UK and Ireland. This will be SSDP’s first event organized under the auspices of the United Nations. I hope our participation will create a precedent requiring young people to regularly present their views and to fully participate in the work of the Commission and other international drug forums.
The panel will feature Damon Barrett, deputy director of Harm Reduction International, and Howard Wooldridge, co-founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. SSDP speakers include Cliodhna Bairead of NUI Galway SSDP, Lisa Campbell and Nazlee Maghsoudi of SSDP Canada.
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs is the governing body of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime mandated to develop strategies on international drug control. It meets annually with delegates from member States and international Non-Governmental Organisations such as SSDP. 2014 is the midway point in the 10-year plan of the 2009 Declaration and Plan of Action on the World Drug Problem, which set out an extraordinary High Level Review of the efficacy of the Declaration. This will highlight the divergence between the two prevalent views among Member States: reform the international conventions that dictate drug policy or defend the status quo. Given that 2013 saw the first country in history to legalise cannabis, Uruguay, the current alignment of the division between Member States is very significant. The likelihood for radical change at the High Level Review is slim. However, it will influence the discussion amongst the international community for the latter half of the 2009 Declaration. These developments will have a tremendous impact on the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, which is a special meeting on drug policy reform called on by 96 Member States.
Our opponents may not think so, but we are witnessing a paradigmatic shift in drug law around the world. We are moving from questioning the “tough on crime” approach to drugs, to full abandonment of that approach, and from a dismissal of harm reduction to its embrace. Decriminalisation reforms are gaining political approval in legislatures around the world, and legalization is being proposed by the most respected authorities and officials. The winds of change are at our back and increasing in force.
Graham de Barra is the secretary to the Board of Directors and Chairperson of the International Outreach Committee. Graham is a current Master’s student of international human rights law, and this week will lead a SSDP delegation to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs.