Outdated drug policies around the world have resulted in soaring drug-related violence, overstretched criminal justice systems, runaway corruption and mangled democratic institutions. After reviewing the evidence, consulting drug policy experts and examining our own failures on this front while in office, we came to an unavoidable conclusion: The “war on drugs” is an unmitigated disaster.

For nearly a decade, we have urged governments and international bodies to promote a more humane, informed and effective approach to dealing with “illegal” drugs. We saw a major breakthrough a few years ago, when the United Nations agreed to convene a special session of the General Assembly to review global drug policy. It is scheduled to begin April 19.

Unfortunately, this historic event — the first of its kind in 18 years — appears to be foundering even before it gets off the ground. What was supposed to be an open, honest and data-driven debate about drug policies has turned into a narrowly conceived closed-door affair.

In the lead-up to next month's session, the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna held a series of preparatory meetings with its 53 member countries. The commission took responsibility for crafting a declaration to be adopted by all 193 U.N. members of the General Assembly, and should finish next week.

But most of these commission-led negotiations have been neither transparent nor inclusive. Input from key U.N. agencies working on health, gender, human rights and development — and the majority of U.N. member states — was excluded. Likewise, dozens of civil society groups from around the world were shut out of the meetings.

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