Last week, a Brookings Institution discussion on international drug policy began with the premise that "no policy has failed as badly in the past 30 years as drug policy," according to moderator and former Mexican ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarakhan in his opening statement. But now a group of non-profit organizations are working to change that.

In 2016, the U.N. General Assembly will hold a special session (UNGASS) on drugs which will set the tone for global drug policy for the foreseeable future. The last special session on drugs was held in 1998, and tasked U.N. member nations with the unrealistic goal of achieving a "drug-free world" by 2008. If you look at, say, Washington or Colorado the last few years, you know things have turned in a very different direction.

But it's not the the U.S., where states are legalizing marijuana. Latin American countries are loosening restrictions on drug use and Portugal has decriminalized the use of drugs completely, to name just a few examples. Many of the harms associated with drug use -- the violence, the criminal activity, the loss of life -- have been shown to be direct consequences of the way we wage the drug war, rather than of drug use itself. More countries are beginning to acknowledge this troubled history, but the U.N. treaties governing drug policy haven't been significantly updated since the 1960s.

In order to assess the state of international drug policy, Brookings introduced a series of 15 papers last week looking at how the global drug control regime would need to change to keep up with rapid changes in domestic laws and shifting public opinion. Advocates of overhauling drug laws hope that the 2016 UNGASS will usher in a series of changes to international drug treaties to make them more amenable to countries and regions that wish to implement changes to their drug laws.

To that end, a consortium of over 100 human rights and drug policy organizations today are releasing an open letter calling on the U.N. to respect changing drug policies within member countries, and to prioritize human rights over punitive law enforcement in its approach to drug laws. "Existing US and global drug control policies that heavily emphasize criminalization of drug use, possession, production and distribution are inconsistent with international human rights standards and have contributed to serious human rights violations," the groups write.

The signatories' letter boils down to a fairly simple request: that "human rights principles, which lie at the core of the United Nations charter, should take priority over provisions of the drug conventions," they write.

Thumbnail CC photo: murphydean

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