New York City Bar Association Releases Report on World Drug Problem

As the United Nations General Assembly convenes a special session on the world drug problem (UNGASS 2016), the New York City Bar Association released a report today with recommendations on how to solve it. The report, “Charting a Wiser Course: Human Rights and the World Drug Problem,” by the City Bar’s Drugs and the Law Committee, calls for public dialog to “expand to address the global reach of the drug trade and the international implications” of drug control. “Drug policy is an inherently international construct due to the cross-jurisdictional issues involved,” the report states. “And, in fact, our local and regional drug control efforts derive, at bottom, from international law: state and local drugs laws and policies are rooted in federal law which, in turn, is largely based on—and is, in fact, the implementing legislation for—the International Drug Control Conventions.” Noting that the existing paradigm of drug prohibition and criminalization has been ineffectual in solving the dual scourges of drug addiction and drug trafficking, the committee argues that the global reach of the drug trade and the wide-ranging effects of substance abuse and addiction require an equally wide-ranging, multilateral and public health-oriented response across the international community and around the world.  The report makes the following recommendations:Explicitly Endorse Harm Reduction and Expand its Meaning Under International Law.

  1. Work to Make Quality, Evidence-Based Drug Treatment Available when Appropriate, and Issue Guidance on “Best Practices” for Drug Treatment for the International Community.
  2. Ensure Universal Access to Essential Medicines.
  3. Remove International Restrictions on Cannabis to Allow for Enactment of a Range of Local Measures, Including Regulation.
  4. Encourage the De-Escalation and/or Consider the Removal of Criminal Sanctions for Possession of Cocaine, Heroin, Opiates and Psychotropic Substance for Personal Use.
  5. Allow Regulation of New Psychoactive Substances (“NPS”).
  6. Stop Crop Eradication and Promote Economic Development.
  7. End the death penalty for drug-related offenses and ensure proportionality in sentencing for drug-related crimes.
  8. Promote Alternative Policing Methods Around Drug Law Enforcement.
  9. Change the metrics and indicators of success in international drug control policy to reflect goals centered around public health and human rights.
  10. Convene an independent commission to study the impact and efficacy of the international drug control architecture and report back with specific recommendations for the UN and the international community.

The report follows two previous City Bar reports on the topic. In 1994, the landmark report “A Wiser Course” detailed the impact of what came to be known as the War on Drugs. The report denounced the United States’ policy of drug prohibition, which had failed to eradicate the scourges of drug use, addiction and distribution, and called for “the opening of a public dialog regarding new approaches to drug policy, including legalization and regulation.” In 2009, “A Wiser Course: Fifteen Years Later” renewed the call for dialog and urged lawmakers to re-focus drug policy using a medical paradigm to evaluate the schedules for controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act. It also recommended that Congress consider transferring aspects of drug regulation from the Justice Department to the Department of Health and Human Services. The new report concludes, “Our hope is that the April 2016 meeting will not only set the tone for more honest discussions going forward, but will throw open the door to a thorough and unflinching review process on the road to 2019 and beyond. But regardless of what transpires at UNGASS, the international community must prepare itself to reconsider the failed policies of the past and take concerted and proactive steps to develop a new system, whether through fundamental amendment of the treaties or the creation of an entirely new treaty structure.” Read the report here: