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United Nations Reviews Global War on Drugs

FILE - Community-based anti-narcotic campaigners destroy a poppy cultivation near Lone Zar village in northern Kachin State, Myanmar, Feb. 3, 2016.

A United Nations special session met Tuesday to discuss global drug policy — the first U.N. meeting on the subject in nearly 20 years.

Global leaders debated an international trend toward more liberal drug laws, with countries across the board agreeing that the drug problem needs to be addressed, but deeply divided on how to do that.

A number of Latin American countries said an aggressive war on drugs has failed, leading to thousands of lives being destroyed worldwide. These leaders urged the U.N. to accept the trend to legalize soft drugs, while other member states such as Russia remained wary of the United States' push to regulate access to marijuana.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement in which he expressed the goals of the United States as "implementing alternatives to incarceration where appropriate, the use of drug courts, and sentencing reform to channel those who suffer from substance use disorder into recovery and treatment, not just prisons."

No major decisions are expected to be made this week.


Another contested issue addressed in Tuesday’s session was the use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses. The outcome document adopted by member states did not criticize the death penalty, but only said that countries should ensure that the punishments are “proportionate” to the crimes.

Prior to the meeting, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, as well as rock star Sting and hundreds of others, signed an open letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stating that the war on drugs has failed.

The letter falls in line with the concerns of many national leaders and activists who call for more attention to health and human rights, as opposed to criminalization.

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