London launch of Improving Global Drug Policy: Comparative Perspectives and UNGASS 2016

On June 19th, 2015, at the International Institute for Security Studies in London, a panel of experts, including Vanda Felbab-Brown, analyzed the effectiveness of counternarcotics policies in the Americas, Europe, and Asia and discussed their implications for the 2016 Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS 2016). Felbab-Brown described the rupture between the East and the West on drug policy, noting that in Latin America and some parts of Western Europe, there is growing discomfort with the current regime’s focus on punitive approaches, suppression of illicit crops, and punishment of users. Conversely, Southeast Asian governments usually favor tough law enforcement, abstinence, and punitive measures, explained James Windle, who foresees little change after UNGASS 2016 for these states and believes that they will likely remain committed to strict anti-drug policies. Caroline Chatwin argued that drug policies in Europe would be improved by greater commonality in definitions, research methods, and data collection, but maintained that the current variety of responses to the drug issue in Europe is desirable. Martin Jelsma echoed this sentiment, arguing that U.N. member states should use UNGASS 2016 to conduct a wide-ranging debate that considers all policy options. Felbab-Brown concluded the event with recommendations for drug policies to focus on degrading organized crime, prioritizing violence reductions in the distribution market; as well as socioeconomic approaches that provide social, political, and economic access for marginalized populations.