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Congressman: US Drug Policies ‘Embarrassing’ on World Stage

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A Democratic congressman just took the Obama administration to task for not doing enough to lead the world out of a failed drug war approach to substance use and abuse.

Last week, world leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York City to discuss the global war on drugs. While it could have been an opportunity to radically adjust course, the UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) actually amounted to little more than a cheerleading session for current prohibition-based international drug treaties that have remained unchanged over decades even as more and more jurisdictions enact marijuana legalization and other reforms.

While some countries — including Canada, Mexico and Jamaica — did take time during the UNGASS to announce national-level reforms and push for a reexamination of the treaties, the United States and other world powers like China and Russia didn’t join in. As a result, the outcome document agreed to at the meeting mostly represented a giant thumbs-up to the status quo.

“America was on the sidelines,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said on the floor of the U.S. House on Wednesday. “America was not calling for adjustment and change in reform. We were sort of between those more progressive forces, including those countries that have really been in the throes of the drug wars. And then there is Iran and China and Russia, and we were sort of floating in between. It is kind of embarrassing, as an American, to see the United States not leading.”

There will be another UNGASS in 2019 and, by then, Canada is likely to have joined Uruguay and a growing number of U.S. states in ending marijuana prohibition. Mexico will probably have widespread access to medical marijuana, and other nations will have enacted significant moves away from prohibition.

Blumenauer expressed hope that the continuing shift, including more state-level legal cannabis laws, will influence the United States to take on a bigger leadership role in pushing for global reform.

“In 2019, when we go back to the United Nations, hopefully to be able to make some of these reforms, the world is going to look different,” he said. “In 2019, virtually every American will have a legal access to medical marijuana, and we will continue the action at the state level, making those critical changes. Public opinion, once and for all, will be settled in favor of regulation, taxation and responsible adult use. I am hopeful that the United States will be on the right side of reform, that we will stop expensive and regressive policies that don’t work, and that we will be able to respond to the emerging American consensus of the people at the state and local levels to do it better. This is one effort we can’t afford to fail.”

Click here to see the video of Blumenauer’s floor remarks about UNGASS and the lack of U.S leadership for reform.

Photo Courtesy of Sean Pavone.

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