World

UN Fails In Attempt To Endorse Decriminalization After Pressure

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

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Jonah Bennett Contributor

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime was set to recommend that all governments around the world decriminalize the use and possession of illegal substances, but that recommendation has been withdrawn.

Richard Branson, owner of the website Virgin and part of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, posted information about the expected endorsement of decriminalization Monday ahead of news organizations, for fear that the United Nations might “bow to pressure” back away from the recommendations of an internal report Branson said he had seen.

Branson’s fear appears to have been realized. The document, which advocates for UN members to decriminalize “drug use and possession for personal consumption,” has been withdrawn. UN officials have since claimed that the document was nothing more than a professional opinion offered by Dr. Monica Beg, chief of the HIV/AIDs section of the UNODC in Vienna.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy is a panel of world leaders, who have argued that the War on Drugs is a colossal failure. Not only have governments failed to mitigate the use and spread of illegal substances, but prohibition itself has sparked violence. The solution, Branson has argued, is to treat drug use as a health issue and give addicts treatment instead of a jail sentence. In 2014, looking solely at the United States, authorities arrested 1.5 million people for drug charges. Of those 1.5 million, 83 percent of arrests occurred for possession alone.

While Branson wanted to make sure that the delay in releasing the document didn’t turn permanent, noting that “at least one government is putting an inordinate amount of pressure on the UNODC,” in the end, it appears that pressure won the day.

“Let us hope the UNODC, a global organisation that is part of the UN and supposed to do what is right for the people of the world, does not do a remarkable volte-face at the last possible moment and bow to pressure by not going ahead with this important move,” he added. “The war on drugs has done too much damage to too many people already.”

Marijuana advocates in the United States were looking forward to the expected endorsement and pushed for the White House’s drug czar office to follow in lockstep with the UN drug czar.

“This is a big move, and part of a global awakening that the war on drugs is not only a failure but causes devastating public health and safety harms,” Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “If the Obama administration means what it says about treating drugs as a medical issue and not something we can arrest our way out of, the White House drug czar’s office needs to join the UN drug czar in endorsing decriminalization.”

What will come of the document is unclear, but for now, the UNODC has decided to withhold any endorsements of an end to the global War on Drugs.

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