The CND is the central policy-making body for the UN drug control system. It is comprised of 53 UN member states that are elected by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in order to ensure a geographical representation of seats – but all other countries are permitted to attend meetings as “observers”. The CND meets in Vienna for one week every March, for a few days every December, and then for inter-sessional meetings as needed at other times. At the CND, member states discuss the global drug situation, and adopt resolutions on related issues. The CND is also the final decision maker on proposals by the World Health Organisation to schedule, de-schedule or re-schedule a substance. The Commission also approves the budget and work plan of UNODC, upon whom it also relies for administrative and technical support.

Traditionally, CND member state delegates have been overwhelmingly drawn from ministries of foreign affairs and criminal justice. This tends to reinforce the primacy of law enforcement perspectives on an issue that has much wider social, health and human rights implications.

There are also many procedural challenges at the CND – in particular the fact that almost all decisions are taken by consensus (the so-called “Vienna Consensus”). In order to achieve this consensus between countries with divergent views of the world drug problem, any final wording and decisions are usually vague and reflect the lowest common denominator – as was exemplified by the Joint Ministerial Statement adopted in March 2014. This consensus approach also means that it is easy for one member of the CND to block a resolution, issue or decision. The structure and final wording of resolutions are therefore often subject to diplomatic “trade-offs” between member states. As a result, the annual CND meetings have usually consisted of long and self-congratulatory statements from member states, and rarely engage meaningfully in discussion of the true dilemmas inherent in the system, as member states avoid the diplomatic risks of raising difficult issues.

Yet this trend is shifting over time, with more and more countries acknowledging the failures and limitations of the current approach and calling for debate and reform (you can read more about individual country positions and statements on the CND Blog, which is managed by IDPC).

IDPC works to facilitate the participation of civil society representatives at CND meetings, and we also organise side events and other meetings on drug policy issues. The involvement of NGOs at the CND has improved dramatically in the last few years, although it remains far behind civil society engagement in other UN processes (such as the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board, where NGO representatives have voting rights). Hundreds of NGO representatives attend the main CND meetings as observers, and some member states also include civil society voices on their government delegations. IDPC and other NGOs can also make statements during Plenary Sessions (read more). However, some governments at CND can still be rather hostile towards NGOs, in particular those representing groups most affected by the issue (i.e. representatives of people who use drugs or subsistence farmers of crops destined for the illicit market).

Click here for IDPC’s detailed analysis of the annual CND meetings’ key debates and outcomes.