UN Withdrew Proposition To Decriminalize All Drug Use And Possession

By Zachary Siegel 10/20/15

The apparent shift in position was quickly withdrawn over objections from at least one country.

Dr. Monica Beg
Dr. Monica Beg. Photo via

A leaked document from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recommending the decriminalization of all drugs was withdrawn after at least one country showed disapproval over the idea, according to the BBC.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, opined on the shifting of tides regarding drug crime, despite the paper ultimately being struck down.

“On the one hand it’s promising that such a powerful statement strongly affirming the need to decriminalize drug use and possession made it this far in the UN process; that in itself represents a dramatic evolution from previous decades when any talk of decriminalization was studiously suppressed,” said Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance.

The document, which was printed on formal UNODC letterhead, was drawn up by Dr. Monica Beg, chief of the HIV/AIDs section of the UNODC in Vienna, argued "arrest and incarceration are disproportionate measures" for drug-related crimes.

According to the BBC, the document claims it "clarifies the position of UNODC to inform country responses to promote a health and human-rights approach to drug policy."

Furthermore, the paper states, "Treating drug use for non-medical purposes and possession for personal consumption as criminal offenses has contributed to public health problems and induced negative consequences for safety, security, and human rights."

In April 2016, the United Nations General Assembly will hold its first special session on drugs (UNGASS) since 1998. That last meeting, now 17 years ago, quixotically called for a “drug-free world” and, well, we all know how well that worked.

Nadelmann at the DPA said, “There is simply no good basis in science, health or ethics for bringing someone into the criminal justice system solely for drug possession.” It’s his hope and many others that this moment will propel drug policy toward a 21st century humanitarian entity.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.