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As War on Drugs Again Declared Failure, Trump's UN Event Dismissed as 'Splashy' Backward-Thinking Photo Op

"President Trump is the last person who should be defining the global debate on drug policy," says one expert. "Trump has shown complete disdain for human rights and international law."

U.S. President Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump spoke at a drug policy event at the United Nations New York City headquarters on Monday. (Photo: White House/Twitter)

As the Trump administration pressures countries across the globe to back a drug policy document that critics say aims to ensure "that the world continues to implement the War on Drugs, despite the approach's dangerous consequences for human rights and national security," two new reports detail how that approach has been a major failure in the United States and call for "reform of the prohibition-based international drug control system, which is compromising a universal and holistic approach to the 'drug problem.'"

The Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP), which includes 12 former heads of state and other policy leaders, put out a report on Monday declaring that the War on Drugs has "failed" and outlining "how governments can take control of currently illegal drug markets through responsible regulation, thereby weakening criminal organizations that now profit from them."

"The international drug control system is clearly failing," Helen Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand and current GCDP commissioner told Metro. "The health...of nations is not advanced by the current approach to drug control."

Another report, published Friday by the journal Science, examines nearly 600,000 unintentional drug overdoses in the United States from 1979 to 2016. Summarizing that study, journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted: "The War on Drugs is one of the greatest policy failures of the last century. It's a disgrace on all levels: pragmatics, moral, ethical, and humanitarian."

The reports come as U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday morning hosted an event at the United Nations General Assembly that centered on the U.S.-led Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem (pdf), which critics including GCDP warn "signals the continuation of inefficient, costly, and harmful policies" that "result in punitive law enforcement, militarization, mass incarceration, forced treatment, and broken families and communities."

But as Trump, speaking from the U.N. headquarters in New York City on Monday, called on other world leaders to follow his lead on drug policy, critics like Hannah Hetzer of the Drug Policy Alliance said they should do no such thing.

"President Trump is the last person who should be defining the global debate on drug policy," she declared ahead of the event. "From his support of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal drug war to his call for the death penalty for people who sell drugs, Trump has shown complete disdain for human rights and international law."

Hetzer described Trump's call to action as "a unilateral move" by the administration "that shows utter disregard for multilateralism and regular U.N. processes of negotiation and consensus." Urging other governments to be "wary" of backing the president's call, she concluded, "This is clearly an example of Trump attempting to wade into the international drug policy debate and create a splashy camera-ready opportunity, carefully orchestrated to create the appearance of support from dozens of other countries."

Among the world leaders who have said they won't sign on to the Trump administration's document on drug policy—signed by some 129 countries, according to Reuters—is New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. With Trump's approach, she told reporters, "there is a particular opiate focus."

"We obviously have an agenda that is focused on addressing issues around drug use. We have a number of challenges that are quite specific to New Zealand and the particular drugs that are present, but also I'm taking a health approach," she said. "We want to do what works, and so we are using a strong evidence-base to do that."

During Monday's event, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres reflected on serving as prime minister of Portugal when the nation decriminalized drug possession and consumption with policies that have been widely lauded as successful in reducing addiction. While praising Trump for putting a global spotlight on the issue, he also reminded those in attendance of the importance of "making sure that those who need treatment get it."

"Consumers are first and foremost patients and victims," Guterres said. "Drug addicts are victims who need treatment, rather than punishment."

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