I outlined some of the history of the worldwide war on drugs and the quixotic failings of the last UNGASS in 1998, and made some predictions for the outcome of the current UNGASS.
I argued two broad points:
1. “Expect [from UNGASS] high drama, vituperative protesters, debates by all manner of punditry, impassioned speeches, the softening of drug war rhetoric, the praise of needed reforms and transition from a criminal enforcement paradigm to one based on public health and human rights[.]
“But don’t expect any significant policy shift. The vested interests in current international drug control protocols will employ whatever mendacity and legerdemain necessary to keep the current system in place.”
2. Concluding with, “UNGASS at this stage is at best little more than an international focus group or debating society, and at worst, a political theatrical production. Real change will only occur when paying audience members – the UN member nations – realize how truly bad the acting is, and walk out of the theater.”
And that is exactly how it played out.
Let’s remember too that this UNGASS was called by Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala, the three member states that have suffered more than any other nation from the global war on drugs (arguably, and depending on how one measures human suffering).
They were slapped in the face.
There were some memorable moments, to be sure. Canada shone by reaffirming her commitment to legalizing and regulating cannabis by the spring of 2017. Indonesia’s delegate was almost booed off the dais when he feebly defended his country’s death penalty for drug possession.
Britain, despite being a strict prohibitionist country, defended its “evidence-based approach” to drug control – perhaps one of the most embarrassing statements ever made by a country’s official representative, a runner up to then-Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s claim that “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country” at a 2007 Princeton University speech.
Bolivia’s Evo Morales hit it out of the park with an incredible plenary statement. Even Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto sounded lucid in a solid anti-drug war speech, calling for a change from mere prohibition to effective prevention and efficient regulation (blind birds sometimes catch worms, too).
And the “Anyone’s Child” protest by people who have lost family members to the drug war was powerfully moving.
But the belligerent defenders of the status quo – the Russian delegation – held the ground, helped by a cadre of powerful countries who still believe in the silly platitude that “if we just redouble our efforts” we’ll make progress.
Despite, of course, having spent trillions of dollars over the past 50 years on drug prohibition battles, and despite the fact that illegal drugs are more potent and cheaper that they have ever been in the course of human history.
I like pleasant surprises, but my pre-UNGASS assessment was more right than I would ever have liked.
As I predicted, it was basically an elaborate charade. The jury decided the case before hearing the evidence. The agreement, called the “outcome document,” was adopted on the very first day of the three-day summit, and except for minor details had already been negotiated in Vienna in March.
It gave lip service to “harm reduction” and emphasizing the “health and welfare of humankind.” But rhetoric is rhetoric. It left the current system in place.
This UNGASS was a victory for the drug warriors, but a pyrrhic one. Many UN member states like Mexico, Canada, Bolivia, Uruguay, Columbia and New Zealand are increasingly willing to walk away from its “outdated and broken prohibitionist ethos,” as Steve Rolles of Transform said.
(In case you’re wondering, the U.S. delegation, knowing the U.S. is in violation of international treaties due to widespread cannabis legalization while ironically at the same time being the instigator and progenitor of the global drug war, was a schizophrenic and ineffective mess.)
UN member countries like Mexico, which are the primary victims of this feckless drug war, are getting restless, itching to walk out of the stuffy theater for some fresh air. In my view, they should.
The UN is in very real danger of becoming an international irrelevancy, a “debating society” as I’ve said, and if it is unwilling to evolve, it will die.
Indeed, I believe the death rattle has already begun.
Glen Olives Thompson is a professor of North American Law at La Salle University in Chihuahua, a specialist in law and public policy and a regular contributor to Mexico News Daily. Some of his other non-academic work can be viewed at glenolives.com.