VIENNA (11 March 2014) — The  UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the chief drug policymaking body at the United Nations, will open its annual meeting this week after a year of historic reforms.

This year’s UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND)—which is taking place Vienna from 13-21 March—is expected to be unusually contentious after a monumental 2013-2014. Unprecedented reforms have shaken the foundations of global drugs policy and set the stage for an explosive international debate. These changes include:

  • The Organization of American States report that envisioned a post-drug war world, including consideration of treaty reform, the first time a multilateral body had done so.
  • Uruguay becoming the first national jurisdiction in the world to legalise cannabis.
  • The opening of the world’s first legal, recreational cannabis market in Colorado.
  • Colombia and Guatemala’s momentous stand at the UN General Assembly, where they asserted the drug war had failed that it was time for an international debate about reform.
  • The withdrawal of counter-narcotics aid from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s drug control program in Iran due to human rights concerns.

The meeting itself is likely to feature standoffs between reform-oriented countries and governments that favour failed criminal justice models, which have resulted in mass incarceration and rampant human rights abuses such as the death penalty for non-violent drug offences. Meanwhile, a number of countries in Europe and Latin America are expected to argue for public health approaches, decriminalisation of minor possession, harm reduction and to urge a consideration of alternative regulatory models.

Joanne Csete, deputy director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program said, “There will be no shortage of governments that seek to bury their heads in the sand and pretend these drug policy reforms aren’t happening. But try as they might, the movement for drug law reform is unstoppable.”

Ann Fordham, executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium said, “It is a pivotal moment in the drugs debate. It is no longer a question of if global drug policy needs to be reformed but a question of when and how. Denial that change is coming is not a sustainable position for governments to take.”

The past year in drug policy reform at a glance:

About the High Level Segment/Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

For Live Updates from the High Level Segment and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.