Summary of Activities for SSDP's Model UNGASS General Assembly Session

Summary of Activities for SSDP's Model UNGASS General Assembly Session

Written by Rachelle Yeung ’12, President of SSDP’s Mid-Atlantic Region Alumni Association and co-host of This Week in Drugs.

SSDP would like to thank our UNGASS Advisory Committee for devoting their time and expertise towards ensuring students were well prepared for the event. In addition to advising us on the format for the event, advisory committee members reviewed country position briefs submitted by participants and gave advice to students on the policies of their respective countries. To all advisory committee members, thank you for being a great resource for our team. 

DSC01126Day 2 of SSDP’s Model UNGASS opened with a standing room only audience, with dozens of students, alumni, and other supporters packed into the back of the room. During the day’s general session, delegates representing member states from around the world considered and debated recommendations related to health, crime, and human rights approved by the three committees the day before. The agenda was so packed with recommendations and the delegates so prepared to discuss the policy implications of each proposal that, unfortunately, the General Assembly was unable to get through all of them. Nevertheless, after hours of thoughtful debate, member states were able to come to an agreement on nearly every recommendation they did consider.

The session began with the Speaker’s List — a reading of each approved recommendation, with each sponsoring nation given the opportunity to speak briefly in support of its proposed policy.

Before substantive debate even began, some tension arose when the U.S. was given the opportunity to respond to Ecuador’s recommendation on reducing funding for environmentally degrading practices, such as aerial eradication, which specifically named the powerful North American country as financial supporters of such tactics. The U.S. declined to respond, and the delegate from Ecuador clarified that naming the U.S. was meant as an example, and not meant to be disparaging.

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The Unmoderated Caucus presented an opportunity for delegates to discuss proposed recommendations in an informal, non structured setting.

Following the reading of the committee recommendations, the session broke into an unmoderated caucus. The room roared to life, bustling with activity, as delegates jostled to form alliances with other nations and count votes for their proposals. Several delegates whose nations supported similar recommendations, such as the advancement of medical use of marijuana, came to agreements on which specific proposal to coalesce behind. After 20 minutes, the General Assembly was reconvened to begin the moderated caucus, during which each recommendation would be amended and voted on. Unlike during the committee votes the day before, these recommendations would only require a simple majority to pass.

The recommendations discussed were as follows:

Recommendation 1: Money laundering

Reform current money laundering laws through tighter financial controls, increased private sector transparency and governmental oversight, and the establishment of a standard process for seizing and distributing laundered money/assets on a global level.

The first recommendation to be considered was offered by France to reform current money laundering laws and increase transparency of financial institutions. France proposed an amendment to the language, deleting “seizing and distributing” to “controlling confiscated assets,” which passed.

At this point, proceedings were briefly interrupted when notes fraudulently signed by certain countries were being passed around the General Assembly. The delegate from Afghanistan made a Point of Order, requesting whether such notes could be notarized as he had received some “rather absurd notes” allegedly signed by himself. The Secretary General swiftly and decisively ruled than any silly notes would be found dilatory, to sounds of impressed “Oohs” from the audience.

The delegate from Tajikistan then spoke in favor of the recommendation, as a country that shares a border with Afghanistan and has been negatively affected by narco-trafficking. The delegate noted several incidents in which major financial institutions facilitated the laundering billions of dollars in cartel money, including HSBC in 2012. The bank was given a $1.9 billion fine, but not a single individual was prosecuted. The recommendation was approved 31-1-3.

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The Delegate from Denmark, Elijah Ullman (Colorado State University), addresses the floor.

Recommendation 2: Syringe exchange programs

Member states should expand access to sterile syringes, as through syringe exchange programs (SEPs). SEPs offer many of the public health and resource-connection benefits of safe injection sites, without actually providing a space for participants to inject. Nevertheless, SEPs are an indispensable tool in Canada’s public health toolbox, and a crucial resource for people who inject drugs.

This recommendation was offered by the delegate from Canada to expand access to syringe exchange programs (SEPs). The delegate from Ireland spoke in support of the proposal, describing heroin as the greatest drug problem in his nation. In the 1990s, Ireland implemented a SEP, which had an enormous impact in reducing rates of HIV/AIDS among intravenous drug users. The recommendation was approved 21-12-2.

Recommendation 3: Naloxone

Member states should expand access to the lifesaving drug Naloxone, which reverses opiate overdoses. Naloxone should be available by prescription at pharmacies, carried by law enforcement officials and paramedics, and distributed (along with training in its use) at syringe exchange programs.

This recommendation was also offered by the delegate from Canada to expand access to Naloxone, the opiate overdose reversal medication. The delegate from Switzerland was the first to speak in favor of the proposal, citing a massive heroin problem in his/her country during the 1990s and how the use of a derivative similar to Naloxone has saved countless lives. The delegate from Canada added that the use of the drug has been recommended by the World Health Organization. The delegate from Ecuador then stated her opposition to the availability of Naloxone by prescription, concerned that it would merely encourage injection drug use. The delegate from Japan then urged more research on the effectiveness of this and other harm reduction policies before member states would be mandated to implement them. The recommendation was approved 24-10-2.

Recommendation 4: Medical cannabis

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Observers take in the debate at Model UNGASS

Member states should follow the lead of many states in the USA and other countries around the world and increase access medical cannabis. Cannabis has been found effective in treating a number of conditions including chronic pain, glaucoma, epileptic seizures, symptoms resulting from chemotherapy, and wasting syndrome associated with AIDS. Patients should have the right to, under the supervision of their doctor, access this medication that so many find helpful.

This recommendation was also offered by the delegate from Canada to increase access for the medical use of cannabis. The delegate from Mexico then introduced an amendment for similar proposals by Mexico and New Zealand in support of medical cannabis to be merged into Canada’s recommendation. The Secretary General clarified the process for withdrawing proposals. The delegate from Israel, a country leading the research in medical use of cannabis, then spoke in favor of the proposal, citing its strong belief in the value cannabis for treating debilitating medical conditions. The delegate offered to share the results of its on-going human clinical trials with any interested nations. The delegate from Thailand then spoke to oppose the recommendation, instead throwing its support behind New Zealand’s cannabis recommendation, which would have allowed skeptical countries more flexibility to further examine the evidence behind medical cannabis. Thailand said it was a matter of respect for those countries still studying the science. When the vote was counted, the Secretary General announced that it had failed, eliciting loud jeering from the clearly supportive crowd. However, the vote was re-counted, and in the end, the recommendation was approved 23-8-2.

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Chairs for the Committee on Human Rights and Alternative Development, Gonzo Nieto (Board Co-chair, CSSDP) and Roberto Jones (College of Charleston).

Recommendation 5: Public health over criminal justice

Member states should reform its drug sentencing laws and focus on drug use as a public health rather than criminal justice issue.

This was the final health recommendation offered by the delegate from Canada. The delegate from China offered an amendment to add the word “use” to the phrase “drug sentencing laws,” thereby effectively excluding drug production and trafficking from the discussion. The amendment passed. The delegate from the U.S. then spoke in favor of the proposal, urging member states to look at its own nation as an example of shifting policy away from draconian mandatory minimums and harsh drug sentencing to focus more on compassion, treatment, and public health. The delegates from Colombia and Thailand then spoke in opposition to the recommendation, both concerned that the language was too broad. Colombia requested more specificity as to what changes member states would have to undertake in order to comply. Thailand added that the language of the proposal assumes that certain criminal justice systems do not currently take the health of citizens into consideration, and could be interpreted to shame or coerce certain countries. The recommendation passed with a slim majority of 17-12-6.

Recommendation 6: Decriminalization

Decriminalize drug consumption; Place human rights at the center of the discussion on drugs and health.

This recommendation was offered by the delegate from Colombia to decriminalize drug consumption. The delegate from Colombia introduced an amendment to emphasize human rights rather than decriminalization of all drug use, by striking the first clause, and adding to the end of the sentence “which allows individual states a path towards decriminalization.” During discussion of the amendment, the delegate from Ireland asked whether “personal use” referred to possession, consumption, or something else. Colombia clarified that it encompassed both possession and use. The amendment was rejected. No other delegates spoke either in favor or opposition to the proposal. The recommendation failed xx-xx-xx.

At this point, in the interest of time, the Secretary General proposed to skip the rest of the Health committee’s recommendations, and begin discussion of the Alternative Development committee’s. The vote passed.

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The Delegate from Ecuador, Spencer Rudnick (Cornell College) addresses the floor.

Recommendation 7: Environmentally degrading eradication practices

The funding from countries like the US which encourage current environmentally degrading eradication practices such as aerial and slash and burn practices should be reappropriated to support environmentally and economically sustainable agricultural development. The unique needs of indigenous and low socioeconomic populations will be considered when future legislation is introduced.

This recommendation was offered by the delegate from Ecuador to re-appropriate funding that currently encourages environmentally degrading eradication practices towards supporting environmentally and economically sustainable agricultural development. The delegate from Ecuador introduced an amendment to modify the grammar of the amendment without any substantive effect. The amendment was approved, and the recommendation was then approved without further discussion.

Recommendation 8: Legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis

Legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis to fund public drug education programs.

This recommendation was offered by the delegate from Canada to legalize cannabis. The delegate from Denmark spoke first in support, arguing that in his country, the town of Freetown Christiana has been taxing and regulating cannabis for a long time without any increase in crime and tax dollars coming in. He also pointed to the United States, where several states have legalized adult use of cannabis and seen dramatic decreases in crime and arrests. The delegate from the U.S. then cautioned member states to take a more measured approach. While the U.S. is in favor of nations having mre flexibility in deciding the cannabis policy that works best for them, the delegate emphasized that we still do not know the long-term societal effects of legalization. The delegates from Canada then shared their experience, as a people, of moving away from being afraid of what medical cannabis would do to their country, to now understanding the health and human rights implications of prohibition. The delegates concluded that taxing and regulating cannabis was the only way to keep their citizens safe and cannabis out of the hands of children. The delegate from China concluded the discussion with a reminder from their nation’s history — in China, opium was legal and that turned people into a nation of heroin addicts. China did not want to legalize cannabis just to have another nation of “lazy, useless people.” Canada’s amendment was voted on, and failed.

Colombia then introduced an amendment to specify that this be “for medicinal purposes.” This would have effectively changed the nature of the recommendation from one focused on “recreational” use to one focused on medical cannabis, which had already been approved in a previous recommendation. Israel opposed the amendment, stating that it was not appropriate to tax cancer patients and others already suffering from severe medical issues. The amendment was voted on, and failed.

The General Assembly then voted on the final recommendation, to legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis. The recommendation failed.