The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is the central policy-making body for the UN drug control system. Its brief includes the conduct of ongoing analysis of the global drug situation and the development of proposals designed to combat drug-related problems, and to reinforce the system of controls. Member state delegates to this primary UN forum for discussion and decision-making on drug policy are overwhelmingly drawn from the foreign affairs and law enforcement disciplines. This reinforces the primacy of law enforcement perspectives on an issue that has much wider social, health and human rights implications.

There are also procedural difficulties - for many years, all disputes within the CND have been settled by consensus. As one analyst notes, “This means that every decision usually comes down to the lowest common denominator – the one that is the least offensive to the largest number.” Such an operating process also means that it is easy for one member of the Commission to block a resolution. As a result “face-saving” solutions are often sought which leads to the vague wording of resolutions. Furthermore, the structure and final wording of resolutions is also often subject to “horse-trading” between CND members, with factors external to the issue of drug control sometimes influencing policy positions within the Commission. As a result, the annual gathering of member states to discuss drug policy invests an inordinate amount of time and energy in receiving long and self-congratulatory statements from member states, and rarely engages meaningfully in discussion of the true dilemmas inherent in the system, as member states avoid the diplomatic risks of raising difficult issues.

Finally, the entire process takes place with very little involvement of Civil Society, and in particular of those (such as drug users or growers representatives) who are most affected by the issue. In other areas of UN activity, NGOs are much more integrated into the policy making process (for example UNAIDS, where NGOs actually sit on the Programme Co-ordinating Board). However, in the drug control system, NGOs have too often been seen as a threat to the quality of discussion, rather than the expert resource that they can potentially be. For example, representatives of those who grow crops that are used in illegal drug production can bring detailed insight to the governmental discussions on policy in source countries.

IDPC members and partners will gather information on the emerging agendas and procedures of the CND, publicise this information widely, and co-ordinate the civil society involvement of our network in the CND meetings  held in Vienna in March of each year.  Read more.