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Reforming Global Drug Policy plays a leading role in US-based global drug policy reform. We advocate for drug policies prioritizing health, human rights and development. We call for revision of the three UN drug conventions in light of national moves toward marijuana legalization. On the basis of the supremacy of human rights under the UN charter, we assert countries' right to consider legalization or marijuana or other drugs, despite current treaty language. And we work for rule of law and accountability for gross violations of human rights in countries' drug wars.

Our work at UN meetings of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), in the human rights system and in other meetings at the UN and elsewhere has advanced dialogue on all these isues.

Global drug policy is implicated in criminal justice and human rights issues such as sentencing and the death penalty. It affects public health issues like AIDS and Hepatitis C. Development is affected by drug policy, as are crime and security. The international system has made opioid pain medications largely unavailable in most countries. UN drug scheduling is a discouragement to governments wishing to legalize medical marijuana, and adverse treaty language discourages governments from considering legalization. The international system affects global commerce prospects for the legal marijuana trade. story on our
UNGASS coalition statement

In preparation for the April 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, (UNGASS) we organized sign-on statements and letters with hundreds of organizational signatories that included some of the world's leading NGOs. These documents promoted the idea that human rights takes precedence over drug control objectives when the two are in conflict -- even on the question of whether to legalize marijuana or other drugs, which faces adverse treaty language -- while arguing for a range of reforms in the areas of public health, development and access to medicine.

Our work on the UNGASS included a teleconference for media with legislators involved with marijuana legalization efforts in Canada and Mexico. This led to the first mainstream media report, published by the New York Times, noting US opposition to taking up reform of the drug treaties, despite marijuana legalization in the US moving the country into tension with the treaties. Our sign-on documents were covered by major media including

Our 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit, DRCNet Foundation Inc., has been an accredited NGO in Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since July 2016. This enables us to deliver interventions (short speeches) at UN meetings, to help allies get admitted to meetings, and to hold educational side events at the UN.

Our first side event, at the 2017 Commission on Narcotic Drugs annual meeting, triggered a major political incident after then Vice President Leni Robredo of the Philippines provided us with a powerful video statement which criticized then President Duterte's brutal drug war. Allies of the president including the Speaker of the House of Representatives attacked her for criticizing the Philippines at the UN, leading to a weeks-long (ultimately unsuccessful) drive to impeach her.

Our continuing work on the Philippines crisis has led us to engage with global rule of law advocacy in support of the International Criminal Court and of Magnitsky and similar targeted sanctions laws. More of that side of our program is detailed here.

In 2023, we are engaging with US foreign policy related to drugs in the legislative process, pressing human rights, rule of law issues and accountability in drug policy at the Human Rights Council and elsewhere; and returning to our advocacy linking human rights with the need for alternatives to prohibition, opposing the death penalty, supporting the global NGO reform agenda for drug policy. As part of this we will promote core forward looking documents like the UN Common Position on Drug Policy and the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy.

Below we present our work related to the 2016 UNGASS; in our ongoing event series at the CND, HLPF and HRC; in opposition to the death penalty for drugs; and other statements we've delivered for UN meetings. (See our Philippines/Rule of Law page for other events held at the ICC Rome Treaty's Assembly of States Parties.)

Work on the 2016 UNGASS:

David Borden presented at a February 2016 preparatory event for UNGASS, at the UN in New York.

David Borden delivered an intervention during the April 2016 UNGASS, Roundtable on Cross-Cutting Issues. The remarks criticized the rationale countries had offered for avoiding any discussion of possible modifications to the treaties, noting that it's the norm for treaties to be updated at times. Borden also called for regulatory approaches to be considered for New Psychoactive Substances, one of several major issue areas in drug policy that the UN has identified, not solely prohibitionist approaches.

We organized a teleconference for media on prospects for marijuana legalization in Canada and Mexico, featuring Mexican Senator Laura Rojas and Canadian Member of Parliament Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, as well as representatives of leading NGOs in both countries.

Media coverage of the teleconference:

  • Extract (Sun-Times) (4/6/16)
  • High Times (4/7/16)
  • Leafly(4/7/16)
  • Cannabis Wire (4/9/16)
  • Civilized (4/10/16)
  • Drug Truth Network (here and here) (4/10/16)
  • Seattle Times editorial (4/17/16) – we're not mentioned, but provided information
  • New York Times (4/18/16) – we're not mentioned, but provided information. The article was the first in a major media outlet to note the US opposed taking up treaty reform at the UN, despite US movement toward legalization.

Our signature effort for the UNGASS was a sign-on statement with nearly 350 organizational signatories, released to media and at the UN in May 2015 and again in April 2016. The statement was endorsed by such leading NGOs as ACLU, Human Rights Watch and AIDS United.

The statement argues that in cases of irreconcilable conflict, nations' obligations under the human rights treaties, which are enshrined as fundamental in the United Nations Charter, take precedence over provisions of the drug control treaties.

The statement also calls for a range of improvements to policies in areas such as development, public health and security; for the UN to appoint a "Committee of Experts" to study the topic of drug treaty reform; and calls on the Obama administration to harmonize its foreign policy on drugs with its domestic policies by providing leadership at the UN to make that happen.

Media coverage of the statement:

We also organized a sign-on letter to President Obama in advance of the March 2016 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting that preceded UNGASS. It noted positive aspects to the administration's approach to UNGASS, but argued that "in key respects... the... US position for UNGASS [took] a short-term approach, stopping short of the crucial reforms called for by UN agencies and US allies, while failing to address new realities." The letter generated a great deal of excitement in the NGO community, and was signed by over 250 organizations in a short period of time, many of them representing mainstream issues affected by drug policy.

Media coverage of the sign-on letter:

Work at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs:

As noted above, we organized a sign-on letter to President Obama in advance of the March 2016 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting that preceded UNGASS, which was covered by media.

David Borden delivered an intervention at the June 2016 High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS at the UN in New York, panel discussion on the Sustainable Development Goals. The remarks discussed ways that prohibition and the drug war contribute to the spread of HIV and AIDS, and called for the UN to take on these issues during the upcoming 2019 High Level Review of UN drug policy.

David Borden delivered an invited intervention on the relationship between drug policy and the Sustainable Development Goals, for the January 2017 Intersessional CND meeting (transcript on UNODC web site). The remarks noted tensions between drug prohibition and SDG goals #1 (poverty), #3 (health), #8 (work), #10 (inequality), and #16 (peace, justice and strong institutions. The remarks also noted the decline in global AIDS funding, particularly for programs responding to injection drug use.

In March 2017 we presented "Human Rights Challenge: Responding to Extrajudicial Killings in the Drug War," a side event at the annual UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting, dealing with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war mass murder campaign. Vice President Leni Robredo of the Philippines, a critic of the killings, sent us a video for the event, which we also released online, initially through an exclusive on the TIME web site< which was followed up by an interview.

Robredo's video drew massive attention in the Philippines and some internationally. Unfortunately, opponents of the vice president used the video to attack her politically, leading to a campaign for her impeachment, a threat which is currently being considered by the Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives. We regret that political leaders of the Philippines misrepresented our event to attack the vice president, instead of facing the grim reality of widespread human rights abuses.

More information on our Philippines-related work, including full video footage and transcripts of our side event, as well as press coverage, is available here.

Also at the 2017 CND, we organized an NGO sign-on statement (initial submission on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime web site, updated version with more signatories on our web site). A major signatory on this statement, new to our global drug policy efforts, is the National Organization for Women (NOW).


We served as ECOSOC sponsor for a side event on marijuana regulation, and for the photo exhibit on safe injection sites shown above, organized by European partners for the March 2017 CND annual meeting. David Borden presented on the panel, discussing the "path toward consensus" on marijuana legalization in the US. Since 2016 we have also provided UN accreditation for these and other partners in advocacy efforts on marijuana's status in the UN drug scheduling system, enabling them to serve as representatives to the UN facilities in Geneva and Vienna; and have served as the charitable sponsor nonprofit for donations to the project.

We submitted a statement for the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) 2017 Integration Segment (April 2017). The statement makes the case that adjustments are needed to drug policy in order to make the eradication of poverty a truly integral objective of UN programs, and noted several ways in which prohibitionist drug policies work against achievement of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

In March 2018, a high-profile Philippine Senator and opponent of President Duterte, Antonio "Sonny" F. Trillanes IV, keynoted for our side event at the annual CND meeting, "Human Rights Challenge: One Year Later, Drug War Extrajudicial Killings Continue." The senator's arrival in Vienna coincided with the Duterte government's notice withdrawing the Philippines from the International Criminal Court; and Philippine government prosecutors filed a sedition arrest warrant against him the morning before our event, as part of their ongoing legal harassment campaign.

The event also featured Philippine human rights advocate Ellecer Carlos, and a reading by advocates of a written statement provided by imprisoned Philippine Senator Leila de Lima. Click here for more information about the event, including mainstream news articles, as well as a series of fake news stories about the senator's visit to the UN that appeared in the Philippines.

At the March 2019 CND annual meeting, we presented "Alternative Values, Alternative Facts: Drug Policy and Justice as Casualties in the Struggle Between Authoritarianism and Democracy." This event featured prerecorded presentations by leading human rights attorney, and at the time senatorial candidate, Chel Diokno; researcher Pamela Combinido, whose group interviewed organizers and rank-and-file "trolls" who carry social media disinformation campaigns; and a video from BuzzFeed News on Facebook's role in fueling Duterte's drug war, which accompanied an award-winning article on the topic by technology reporter Davey Alba. (Atty Diokno joined live discussion with attendees, but the video footage was not usable.)

Diokno's statement prompted significant news coverage in the Philippines, particularly his statement that the Philippine justice system is "eroding," and elicited a response from then Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevara. Click here for more information and news links.

At the March 2020 CND annual meeting, we presented the side event "Human Rights Tools: Incorporating International Justice and Targeted Sanctions Into Drug Policy." The event included our first talk on the Bangladesh extrajudicial drug war killings, and comments from a representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

Statement of UN representative and medical cannabis patient Michael Krawitz, 63rd Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, March 2020. Michael was a member our delegation and is an annual designated representative for DRCNet Foundation at the United Nations. He delivered this statement on behalf of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.

David Borden intervened during a plenary session of the 2021 Commission on Narcotic Drugs, as part of a discussion of the Commission's contribution to achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Borden argued that many current drug policies impede achievement of the goals and compete with the UN human rights system. The submitted written version is online here.

David Borden delivered a statement on Plenary Item #6, implementing the 2019 Ministerial Declaration, 65th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, March 16, 2022. Due to the time limit, some of the content was omitted from the delivered presentation. The statement addresses the denial of methadone therapy in Crimea by occupying Russian forces, and suggested its applicability to the ICC Ukraine case and Magnitsky sanctions regimes due to Crimea's continued international status as part of Ukraine. (Due to a mishap, video of the original English presentation was not preserved. We have posted the French, Russian and Spanish interpretations.)

Also for the 2022 CND, we presented the side event "Open Wound, Extrajudicial Drug War Killings in 2022," featuring Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit from the Commission on Human Rights of the Republic Philippines, and Hong Kong-based Bangaladeshi native Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman of the Asian Human Rights Commission.

David Borden delivered a statement on Plenary Item #5E, on implementing the international drug conventions, other matters relating to the implementation of the convention, during the 66th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, March 15, 2023. The statement notes intractable misconduct in the US drug war to make a case that human rights and drug control are often in tension, asserting the supremacy of human rights as a justification for legalization systems. The statement also addresses the need to make use of international human rights mechanisms like Magnitsky laws and the International Criminal Court, noting again Russia's termination of methadone access in occupied Crimea.

Also at the 2023 CND, we presented the side event "Fractures: Rule of Law Challenges in the Global Drug War," featuring Father Albert Alejo of Pontifical Gregorian University, Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman of the Asian Human Rights Commission, and Natalia Kubesch of UK-based REDRESS.

At the 2024 CND, we had the honor of presenting Philippine Senator Leila de Lima's first internationally-directed speech since her release the prior November following seven years of unjust incarceration. "After a Drug War: Ending Extrajudicial Killings and Extending Transitional Justice to Victims" also featured a panel including Montse Ferrer of Amnesty International; Zaved Mahmood of the Un Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights; and Socorro Reyes, supporter and former university professor of Leila de Lima.

Side events at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development:

In July 2018, we presented "Human Rights Challenge: Judicial and Extrajudicial Drug War Killings in a Time of Authoritarianism," which included a prerecorded statement from Senator Risa Hontiveros of the Philippines.

In July 2019, we held a side event for the HLPF at UN Headquarters in New York, "Alternative Values, Alternative Facts: Drug Policy and Justice as Casualties in the Struggle Between Authoritarianism and Democracy." Footage of the live discussion is not currently available.

In July 2020, we held an online side event for the HLPF, "No Time Like the Present: Drug Policy Reform is More Urgent Than Ever." Speakers included representatives of Housing Works, UNAIDS, the UN Office on Drug and Crime, and a well-known prison educator from the Philippines.

In July 2021, we held an side event for the HLPF, "SDG 16: The Global War on Drugs vs. Rule of Law and Human Rights."

In July 2022, we held an online side event for the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), "Building Back with Justice? Marcos, Duterte, the ICC and the Philippine Drug War."

Work in the UN human rights system  

August 28, 2020 intervention for informal NGO consultation on UN human rights system

Country questionnaire submitted to UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, 8/11/20: copy on OHCHR web site and backup copy on our site

Side event at the UN Human Rights Council, October 4, 2022, "The Continuing Detention of Senator Leila de Lima, featuring Vicente de Lima II, brother of the former senator; well-known Philippine human rights advocate Father Albert Alejo in person (currently based at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome); and a prerecorded message from opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros.

Standalone copy of Senator Hontiveros's statement.

Work opposing the death penalty:

In April 2015 we organized a sign-on letter protesting the resumption of executions for drug offenses by the government of Indonesia. The link is to a copy of the letter published as part of an article in Huffington Post, linked from their home page for 24 hours.

Georgetown Law professor Jason Wright presented on the death penalty for drug offenses, linking to general death penalty issues and his work as a public defender in Afghanistan-related cases, on our July 2018 HLPF event.

Researcher Iftitahsari of Indonesia's Institute for Criminal Justice Reform presented on Indonesia's death penalty for drug offenses, and Duterte-imitation extrajudicial drug war killings, for our July 2021 HLPF event. Indonesia's diplomatic mission at the UN in New York responded during the Q&A.

Other UN activities:


(See our Philippines / Rule of Law section for events we've held for the ICC Rome Treaty's Assembly of States Parties.)