Nothing about us without us
The War on Drugs is one of the most alarming and destructive global humanitarian crises of our time. All around the world prohibitionist drug policies cause an enormous amount of harm to individuals and communities, while also failing to slow rates of problematic substance use. The United Nations drug conventions established an international drug control system which allows mass incarceration, ethnic discrimination, and state violence to be used as weapons against people who use drugs. Narco-violence, corruption, regional instability, and environmental degradation are just some of the most serious side effects of this approach, especially among countries in the global south that are targeted by international control efforts due to the presence of drug supply chains or trafficking networks.
Ending the War on Drugs requires a global movement for reform led by the people most harmed by punitive drug policies and based in the principles of harm reduction. Global Drug Policy is an intersectional topic covering many issues including refugee migration, climate change, global terrorism, HIV/AIDS, and access to education. Among all the campaigns that SSDP is involved with, this may be the most complex and difficult to act around, due to both the slow nature of policy change at the UN and also the logistical difficulties of organizing people across borders. However, now more than ever we are seeing opportunities to take action at the UN and beyond to implement a new approach to drugs.
In recent years, the global consensus in support of the drug war has begun to unravel as more and more UN member states begin to experiment with alternative drug policies based in public health, human rights, and scientific evidence. The vast majority of contemporary research indicates these policies have been incredibly successful at helping communities impacted by addiction. Furthermore, diverting low-level offenders from the criminal justice system and ending the stigmatization of people who use drugs has led to lower rates of violent crime in countries that have moved away from the approach outlined in the three UN drug conventions. As member states continue to realize the negative impacts of prohibition, there is a growing sense that the UN drug conventions will need to be amended to better align the global drug control system with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights conventions.
All around the world, young people are among the most affected populations of people affected by failed drug control policies. Yet at the UN, these policies are often justified in the name of protecting young people while simultaneously excluding their voices from the discussion. It’s difficult for young people to get access to UN meetings even just for observation, and even more difficult to give young people a voice that isn’t tampered by UNODC influence.
For all of these reasons, it is imperative that the SSDP network takes action around global drug policy reform. It’s a huge task, but it’s an important one, and the War on Drugs will not end unless we adopt a global perspective to our advocacy.
SSDP is a global organization with chapters in every habitable continent on the planet. We recognize that the War on Drugs is an international issue, and as such, we aim to support and empower all young people who want to change drug laws in their local communities, their country, and the world. The goals of our international program are to:
- Amplify the youth voice at the United Nations and within the agencies that comprise the global drug control system
- Educate our network about global issues and empower our chapters to bring a global perspective to their work
- Develop a global youth movement for reform by connecting young people across the world
While the UNODC Youth Forum has served as a very limited outlet for youth voices, SSDP has noted that the voices of young people are often absent from drug policy discussions. One of our major goals at the international level is to empower young people to speak for themselves in order to prevent destructive policies from being implemented in their name. We insist that all conversations around drugs should be as inclusive of youth as possible. Our members stand up for the rights of people who use drugs and argue that not only is the goal of a ”drug free world” unachievable, but that the idea is ultimately at odds with the human rights obligations all UN member states must abide by.
SSDP believes that global drug policy needs to be inclusive of the people most affected by the War on Drugs, especially young people. Our work has demonstrated that access to evidence-based education and harm reduction services without fear of punishment can create a culture of safety around drug use. We believe that harm reduction measures should be embraced by the UN, and even enshrined in the international drug control conventions, as a matter of urgency.
During the 2016 UNGASS, SSDP worked with our global youth allies at Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP), SSDP UK, Youth Rise, and Youth Organisations for Drug Action (YODA) to develop an Alternative Youth Consultation. This document outlines six key recommendations to member states on how to effectively reform global drug policy to ensure that young people are protected:
- Acknowledge and invest in harm reduction services such as drug checking kits, supervised injection facilities, educational material about minimizing risks associated with using drugs, and nightlife harm reduction; strongly encourage states to provide these services and to decriminalize the provision of these life-saving services
- Conduct an evaluation of international drug policies with regard to children and young people, seeking compliance with the stipulations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the World Health Organization, and other United Nations agencies and relevant treaties
- Call for evidence-based, age-appropriate education that aims to provide objective information on drug use that prioritizes the reduction of harm rather than relying on fear and intimidation
- Call for the decriminalization of drug use and associated penalties for the possession of drugs
- Allow and invest in research related to medical benefits of psychoactive substances such as cannabis, psilocybin, ayahuasca, ibogaine, and MDMA
- Further encourage the UN to work to ensure active and meaningful participation of youth and youth-related organizations in the development, implementation and evaluation of drug policies and programs, in line with the UNGASS theme “A Better Tomorrow for the World’s Youth.”