The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs – held in New York in April 2016 – was hailed as an opportunity for the international community ‘to conduct a wide-ranging and open debate that considers all options’. Although the UNGASS was characterised by many shortcomings and disappointments, it was nonetheless a critical moment for global drug policy reform. Its Outcome Document may not have been the truly open assessment that was envisaged by Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala when they called for the UNGASS in 2012, but it does include some progressive language on several key issues such as human rights, development, gender, proportionate sentencing, access to controlled medicines and alternatives to punishment. It was positive that certain harm reduction interventions were explicitly mentioned such as overdose prevention (naloxone) and medication-assisted treatment, but unfortunate that the term itself once again did not survive the negotiations.
The next opportunity to build on progress made at the UNGASS will be in 2019 when the existing Political Declaration and Plan of Action are up for review. At present, there is nothing formally agreed about what will happen in 2019: it is essentially an open book. This paper outlines some of the key issues and possible scenarios for 2019/2020, drawing lessons from the process that was agreed in 2008 and 2009 when a Political Declaration on drugs was last up for renewal.
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