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For the first time in 18 years, the United Nations will convene a summit to discuss the global drug policy and where its future lies. The United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS), which is when all members meet to evaluate international drug control, is scheduled to last from April 19-21 in New York.

The United Nations wants there to be a shared international responsibility on stopping the suffering caused worldwide due to illicit drugs. Addressing the 59th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria, Yury Fedotov – Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime – expressed the goal of the summit’s preparations.

“[We] can help to take further crucial steps forward to promote a healthier, safer and more prosperous future for all,” Fedotov said in his address.

In a public statement made by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, they say they want big changes to be made at this upcoming summit. In the statement, the Commission wants UNGASS to end the criminalization and incarceration of drug users, abolish capital punishment for drug-related offenses, empower the World Health Organization to review the scheduling system of drugs based on the basis of scientific evidence, ensure a broad spectrum of treatments for dependent people and services designed to reduce the hard of drugs, and allow governments to apply different approaches to drug regulation in order to maximize public health and disempower organized crime, amongst other things.

“There is widespread acknowledgment that the current system is not working, but also recognition that change is both necessary and achievable,” Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil and Chair of the Global Commission, said in the statement. “We are convinced that the 2016 UNGASS is a historic opportunity to discuss the shortcomings of the drug control regime and identify workable alternatives.”

richard branson speaks on united nations global drug policy meeting
Richard Branson (Source)

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group and philanthropist, has very strong opinions on the summit and wrote about them in a blog post on the Virgin website. He feels the UN needs to take this summit very seriously because it presents an unprecedented opportunity for change.

Branson wrote:

“Communities around the world have been ravaged by decades of a brutal, repressive and completely ineffective war on drugs. The consequences of these strategies include soaring violence, overcrowded prisons, and pervasive corruption. Presented as an investment in a better future, the war on drugs has been an epic, costly failure. We need a new course of action.”

“There is still time to get the UNGASS process back on track. This will only happen if world leaders assume the responsibility to lay the foundation for a more effective and humane global drug control system. The current weak and unambitious draft of the UNGASS outcome document should not be signed off this week in Vienna but should now be discussed in New York, with the inclusion of all UN member states. Champions of reform need to stand up and be counted. Member states that have suffered the failings of the war on drugs for too long need to say enough is enough and refuse to support another bland and hollow declaration of success that re-states business as usual. Anything less would be a profound betrayal of everything the UN stands for. “

With the future of international drug relations set to be discussed in a mere month, something major must be done and the potential of ending the war on drugs certainly isn’t it.

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