Historical UN summit set to reveal unprecedented division as the international community fails to address global drugs crisis

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Historical UN summit set to reveal unprecedented division as the international community fails to address global drugs crisis

12 March 2024

Media advisory

High Level Segment of the 67th Session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (Vienna International Centre - VIC, 14 - 15 March 2024)

World leaders will meet at the UN headquarters in Vienna on 14 and 15 March with conflicting visions on how to confront a global drugs crisis that claims over half a million lives annually and drives serious human rights violations across the world. Unprecedented divisions will underscore the international community’s inability to reform a failed drug control regime.

What is it?

The first global summit on drug policy since 2019 will occur on 14 and 15 March

On 14 and 15 March, the international community will gather in Vienna for the two-day high-level segment of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the main global drug policy body. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Bolivian Vice-President David Choquehuanca, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, and various other ministers and dignitaries are confirmed to be in attendance.

The high-level segment will be the first meeting of world leaders on drug policy since 2019. Its purpose is to assess the implementation of the current global drug strategy and set the course for the next five years.

What will happen?

Unprecedented division amongst Member States threatens global drugs consensus

For the first time in its history, the global drug policy body faces the prospect of failing to reach an agreement on the future direction of the international approach to drugs. After three months of negotiations, Member States have yet to reach consensus on the political document that was intended to be adopted at the opening of the high-level event.

If no outcome document is adopted or Member States resort to a vote, this would be the first time ever that governments fail to reach consensus at the UN’s primary drugs forum in Vienna.

Whilst negotiations remain deadlocked, world leaders will use the event to present opposing visions on how to address the global drugs crisis. While most countries will persist in pursuing a failed punitive approach, others will likely signal a move away from damaging repressive drug policies, including Colombia and the United States — two countries that have pursued draconian ‘war on drugs’ approaches resulting in devastating human consequences and zero impact in terms of scaling back the illegal drug market.

Conflict is likely to emerge on issues such as the legal regulation of cannabis, the viability of achieving a drug-free world, human rights violations connected to drug control, and geopolitical tensions around Iran, Gaza, and Ukraine.

Why is it important?

The international community remains stuck in a failed global ‘drug war’

Research by civil society and the UN itself shows how the current ‘war on drugs’ approach has resulted in half a million drug use-related deaths. This includes almost 400,000 overdose deaths in the United States alone between 2019 and 2023 - mainly caused by prohibition measures that have driven an unpredictable and toxic synthetic drug supply. At the same time, punitive drug control has been associated with extrajudicial killings, acts of torture and abuse masquerading as ‘drug treatment’, countless arbitrary arrests and detentions, and mass incarceration, with people imprisoned for drug offences accounting for a fifth of the world’s prison population.

Faced with this tragedy, a growing number of countries are defecting from the global drug war consensus. More than 60 jurisdictions in 40 countries globally have removed criminal sanctions for drug use and possession, while six European and African countries are in the process of joining most of North America, Uruguay and other countries in legalising cannabis. However, reform at global level remains elusive.

The stage is set for an unusually confrontational summit, grappling with conflicting visions on the global drug strategy amid the UN drug control system's limited capacity for adaptation and reform. In light of this, the upcoming high-level segment marks uncharted territory for the international approach to drugs.

We will share a press release on these developments on Thursday 14th March, but until then, please reach out if you would like to discuss any of this further.

More information

Key contact

Marie Nougier | Head of Research and Communications
International Drug Policy Consortium
mnougier@idpc.net | +447807077617