International drug control is in a period of crisis and transition, with the ‘Vienna Consensus’ broken despite the veneer of agreement among states. Perhaps the primary signifier of this breakage lies in the establishment of legally regulated cannabis markets, which contravene the core principle of the international drug control conventions that drug use be restricted to medical and scientific use. However, this is not the only factor in the build-up of philosophical and practical differences representing those ‘cracks in the consensus’ that were evident at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND).

This year’s Commission ran from 14th to 22nd March 2016, and was powerfully coloured by its focus on the looming United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS), held in New York in April. The CND included a special segment on preparations for the UNGASS, including the production of an Outcome Document to be approved at the New York Special Session.

This report aims to provide an overview of the key issues discussed and debated during the special segment on UNGASS preparations and the regular segment of the 59th CND, including during various side events and NGO dialogues. In attempting to go beyond a functional narrative account, it offers some analysis of the prominent topics of debate, as well as highlighting emergent issues of concern and reoccurring themes. 

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