It’s that time of year when Team Cannabis celebrates its favorite plant with festivals, events and public demonstrations of support taking place all over the world. The party gets bigger every year and increasingly hard for the authorities to ignore the calls for reform. This year 420 also coincides with a symbolic debate, taking place on the world stage – UNGASS.
UNGASS debate coincides with 420
It might sound like a new cannabis extraction technique being pimped around hipster hotspots, but UNGASS is actually another one of those great United Nations acronyms. It stands for United Nations General Assembly Special Session and April is the month when the attention of the member states is on drugs... or ‘the world drug problem’, and how to deal with it.
This is potentially significant because many of the laws that govern cannabis consumption (or the illegality of it) are influenced by the 1961 United Nation Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which classified cannabis, marijuana, marihuana, hashish (whatever you wish to call it!) as a narcotic.
Why is UNGASS 2016 a Big Deal?
The USA has traditionally used the convention as a moral sword in its role as global drugs enforcer since the 1970s. But for the first time since it began the War on Drugs, there is a real appetite for debating marijuana legalization being driven by some big world power names.
But as the USA embraces Mary Jane and Canada talks openly about being the first G7 state to go legal, many countries in the American ‘sphere’ – Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico – are starting to explore their own opportunities to expand their canna potential. Meanwhile, Europe, although still a complicated patchwork of legality, seems to be moving closer to an atmosphere of tolerance.
However, don’t get too excited. Real change requires international agreement and there are two rather large ‘elephants in the room’ (or shall we just call them the Russian Bear and the Chinese Panda?) who aren’t exactly renowned for their canna friendliness.
Will UNGASS mean the end of cannabis prohibition?
Dream scenario: The world’s nations will get together and realize we got it wrong and that rather than criminalize we should reform, regulate, educate and treat genuine drug addiction as a health issue.
Best case scenario: A scale down of the War on Drugs rhetoric with more emphasis on harm reduction, opening the way for individual states to follow decriminalization/legalization programs.
Worst case scenario: Some debate with no real agreement (think climate change, replacing ‘ideological’ disagreement for ‘economic’) and no real change to the status quo.
A Word from Kofi Annan
In a recent essay for a German magazine, Der Spiegel, former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan criticizes the dominance of emotion over evidence in national drug policies.
He argues that we spend at least $100 billion a year enforcing global prohibition and yet up to 300 million people use (all) drugs worldwide, fuelling a black market industry worth $330 billion a year.
Kofi Annan gives four simple arguments for legalization that would help to protect the ‘health and welfare of mankind’ – the original intent of that 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs:
- Decriminalize personal possession.
- Accept that a drug free world is an impossible achievement.
- Replace repression with regulation and education.
- Recognize that drugs must be regulated precisely because they do pose a risk.
For every cannabis user, and many educated people who don’t use, these are common sense arguments coming from a respected world statesman. It should be a no brainer. However, in a world where the next president of the United States may be a man with a small animal nesting on his head common sense is often missing.
So, this 420, light up and hold a spliff in the air and wish for change to come from the world’s biggest stage! We should be enthusiastic about the direction UNGASS could take us, but at the same time we should unfortunately also prepare to be disappointed…