snorting cocaine This was supposed to have been stopped by now.

Political theater with some really bad acting

Don't expect much from UNGASS, the upcoming conference on drug policy

In the second of two parts, Glen Olives Thompson offers his take on the drug policy conference called UNGASS. He is not optimistic.


In October of 2015, Richard Branson, a member of the private think tank the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which has been highly critical of current drug policy and favors the regulation and control of drugs over criminalization, leaked a United Nations paper calling for member states to decriminalize all drugs.

The world was abuzz. For a few hours. When some U.N. member states with strict criminal enforcement policies protested, the U.N. quickly backtracked and withdrew the paper, claiming it was written by a “middle-ranking official” who was “offering a professional viewpoint” which was not official U.N. policy.

One might also remember that U.N. treaties governing drug policies haven’t been significantly updated since the 1970s, and the quixotic goal of the last UNGASS in 1998 was to create a “drug-free world” by 2008. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

Despite a growing call for a reversal of current drug policies from public policy experts, health care professionals, academics, groups such as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and even many member nations in Latin America, including Mexico, the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) is still a staunch old-guard defender of the current failed international drug control regime, and its executive director, Yury Fedotov, is openly critical of drug liberalization laws, including state legalization of cannabis in the U.S.

Indeed, the agency he heads has its head firmly planted in the sand, becoming somewhat of a joke among scholars who study international drug policy.

Partially in response to the incontrovertible fact that worldwide drug use has remained essentially unchanged since 1970 despite the spending of more than US $100 billion per year on drug enforcement, while drugs are both cheaper and more potent than they have ever been in history, a 2013 U.N. World Drug Report (commissioned by UNDOC) stated, “We have to admit that, globally, the demand for drugs has not been substantially reduced and that some challenges exist in the implementation of the drug control system.”


Really? Some challenges? My response in a peer reviewed academic paper published last year was that “[w]ith this statement, the U.N. has brought the art of sugarcoating inconvenient facts to a whole new level.”

Of course the risk for the U.N. old guard is that if international drug control treaties are not significantly reformed to reflect the almost universal consensus that the war is an abject policy failure, member states will simply pull out of international U.N. drug control conventions, as Bolivia did in protest of the ban on coca-leaf chewing.

Politicians, bureaucrats and much of the public at large fear drug liberalization will result in drug proliferation, a fear proven to be unfounded time and time again in various jurisdictions, most notably Portugal and the state of Colorado.

But Portugal and Colorado are nimble entities with roughly the combined population of Mexico City – like F-16 fighter jets that can turn on a dime. The Americas has a population 954 million comprised of some 35 countries with complicated legal and illegal trade mechanisms.

Like a Boing 747, its inertia is great and it cannot turn easily. The sticky tentacles of the drug enforcement juggernaut, with all its economically dependent corollaries, are entwined throughout the system at every level, and supported by business and government interests that benefit from the continued drug war.

To be sure, world public opinion is changing with respect to drug decriminalization (ironically yet perhaps appropriately led by the United States), but sea changes in opinion don’t happen overnight, and when they are finally cemented in societies’ collective psyche, policy implementations often lag far behind.

So expect many things 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.

You’ll even find intellectually honest experts trying to do the right thing – speaking truth to power.

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.

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 U.N. member nations – realize how truly bad the acting is, and walk out of the theater.

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 nonacademic work can be viewed at

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  • athea marcos amir

    Believing that the decriminalization of drugs will lead to everyone taking them reminds me of the belief of many Christians that without the scrutiny of their Big Daddy in the Sky we would all be out there raping, plundering, and murdering indiscriminately.

    Yeah, I’m just dying for cocaine to become legal so I start snorting it before my morning coffee. As if this sinus condition weren’t bad enough….

    • plb4333

      Who says it has to ‘Everyone’.? More people would take drugs if it is legal. Why wouldn’t they? Bet you can’t answer that one. Why not legalize everything? No laws needed. Are you that gullible?

  • Richlittle

    jajaja ‘Amen’. It’s all smoke & mirrors & propaganda. As is every ‘gas cloud’ the US emits or secretly controls.

  • jose sanchez

    If memory serves, just nine days after taking office in 1933, FDR introduced measures to roll back the absurdly Presbyterian notion that taking a drink was a sin. The Constitution was amended — with virtually zero opposition — and Prohibition was revoked. Breweries hired, distillers hung out “help wanted” signs and vintners set to planting grapes. As employment increased, so did government tax revenues. What decreased was Prohibition sparked violence. Only the white-hot moralists of American Phillistinism were left out of what proved to be a largely “win-win” socio-economic equation. Years later, few could recall what had provoked all the fuss over Prohibition.
    Alcohol is a drug, its use and abuse regulated. Prescription drug use is regulated, even while abuse of those “regulations” are quietly ignored. Liberalization of marijuana is underway — authorities in Mexico are moving in that direction. Get used to it.

  • Dan Tucker

    At least they are ¨talking¨ about the problem. A part of my eternal optimism flares up sensing that maybe something good will come out of the talks. Maybe if they talk enough they´ll realize what most rational, logical people already know: legalization is the key to regulation and a drastic reduction in violence. Jose Sanchez gave us a wonderful picture of what could happen again. Cheers!

  • James Smith

    Be still my heart! Hell just froze over! Pigs have learned how to fly! Glen Olives Thompson posted an article which failed to blame the hated Gringos for every nation’s (including of course Mexico) self inflicted problem in the entire world……at least that is, not directly. Maybe there is some hope for that ol’ boy yet.

    • jose sanchez

      James, we are still awaiting (with hearts racing, as you confess is your own) for your first posting of an opinion piece on these pages. We expect your essay to contain constructive, informed and reasonably educated ideas. Avoid plagiarism; unattributed quotes from your local “Mud Flats Examiner” will not be accepted. And be brief, por favor…..

      • James Smith

        Wow….can a single person really be as stupid as you? LOL!

      • James Smith

        You twit. I gave him a compliment! Which is more than he normally deserves. Your comment it must be said is totally without any meaning or substance. Get lost.

  • lang_eddy

    Mr. Smith…can you please get your head out of your ass….

  • cruz_ctrl

    “More people would take drugs if it is legal.”
    You have nothing to back up that assertion. Are you that gullible?
    “Why not legalize everything? No laws needed.”
    Legalization does not mean “no laws”. All drugs would be regulated just as ‘legal’ drugs are today. The idea is to treat drug abuse (and note: there’s a difference between drug use and drug abuse) as a health issue, not a criminal issue. Legalizing (and regulating) all drugs would take billions of dollars out of the hands of criminal organizations (as well as money-laundering banks).

  • Adam Wallace

    The “why not legalise everything” argument, [by which the poster above means theft murder, and rape], is the most morally bankrupt argument spewed by the prohibitionists, and a clear sign of their desperation and ignorance. There is an obvious reason why we should legalise, and regulate the possession and sale of drugs, but not other crimes, and that is drug use is a victimless consensual act, whereas theft murder and rape all have obvious victims. The violence and degradation caused by drug use today is almost without exception a product of the drug control system.

    The fact is that drug prohibition makes a mockery of our claim to liberal democracy. So long as the government decides what substances I am allowed to put into my body, then my body is not wholly my own, and if it is not wholly my own, then I am in effect a slave. Proof of this can be seen in the blatantly racist origins of drug prohibition, targetting blacks, Mexicans and Orientals. A cynic might further argue that it is only now that drug use has moved from the barrio and ghetto to white middle class suburbs that there is a desire for reppeal.

    I will be extremely surprised if UNGASS achieves any significant change, though a softening of the rhetoric is most welcome; one more spear into the toxic beast of drug prohibition.