On 7th May 2015, the UN General Assembly will hold a high-level thematic debate in support of the process towards the UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) scheduled for April 2016. The UNGASS is set to be a critical juncture for the international drug policy debate and will be an opportunity for an honest assessment of the successes and failures of global drug control policies. There is an urgent need for this debate, which is why in 2012, the Presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico called for the UNGASS to be held in 2016 (rather than 2019 as originally planned). The UN Secretary General has urged member states to use the UNGASS to ‘to conduct a wide ranging and open debate that considers all options’.

The critical need for the UNGASS process to be broad and inclusive has also been reaffirmed by the General Assembly: ‘Reaffirms its decision, as recommended by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, that the special session of the General Assembly on the world drug problem in 2016 shall have an inclusive preparatory process that includes extensive substantive consultations, allowing organs, entities and specialized agencies of the United Nations system, relevant international and regional organizations, civil society and other relevant stakeholders to fully contribute to the process in accordance with the relevant rules of procedure and established practice;’ (Resolution 69/201).

The preparations for the UNGASS have already been underway for many months, led by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) based in Vienna with the most recent discussions taking place at a Special Segment on the UNGASS in March as part of the 58th Session of the CND.

The high-level thematic debate on 7th May, as called for by General Assembly Resolution 69/201, will be the first time the UNGASS preparations will be substantively discussed in New York and therefore provides an important opportunity to engage both the broader UN family and New York-based country missions. While it is the mandate of the CND to ‘lead’ on the UNGASS preparations, the fact that this debate will take place under the auspices of the General Assembly as a ‘special session’ provides a unique opportunity to give discussions on the future of international drug control the urgency and prominence that is required.

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