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Every year at the end of June, on the United Nations’ International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, governments around the world re-commit themselves to eradicating drug use and trafficking worldwide. Some choose to use this day to celebrate their contributions to the global ‘war on drugs’ by highlighting arrests made and drugs seized in their countries. Worse yet, in the past, some governments have commemorated the day by enacting horrific punishments, such as holding executions or public beatings of drug offenders. For example, from 2009 to 2014, China unveiled executions and other harsh punishments in the lead-up to the International Day Against Drug Abuse and in 2008, Indonesia cited the day as it resumed executions after a four-year hiatus.

In response, over the past few years under the global campaign banner called Support. Don’t Punish, advocates around the world have held counter-demonstrations aimed at reclaiming the message and promoting drug policy reforms based on public health, development, and human rights. Last year, over 160 cities worldwide held diverse, creative and impactful events – from public gatherings, street art and dance displays, music concerts, public meetings and workshops, boat shows, social media campaigns, and advertisements on public transportation and billboards.

This year, events are being planned in cities in dozens of countries, including Argentina, Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Colombia, Egypt, France, Ghana, Greece, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, the Philippines, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, and the UK, among others. Today, in New York City, activists will gather at 8 pm in front of the Brooklyn House of Detention and hold a rally as The Illuminator projects images and videos of people from all walks of life who use or have used drugs – parents, teachers, friends, sisters, advocates, nurses, artists – in order to humanize those who use drugs, challenge stigma and discrimination, and call for an end to the war on drugs. The action will unite New Yorkers with those fighting for drug policy reform across the world in a sign of solidarity and to demonstrate the breadth and power of this movement.

This year, the Support. Don’t Punish actions are particularly significant. In April, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) – the most important high-level international drug policy meeting in almost two decades – took place in New York. The UNGASS revealed the increasing rift and broken consensus between countries that remain wedded to status quo punitive policies and the growing coalition of countries that used their time at the podium to call for progressive changes, including Canada, Jamaica, Uruguay, Colombia, Mexico, Czech Republic, and New Zealand.

This global rift is becoming more apparent than ever. On the one hand, marijuana regulation, criminal justice reform, and harm reduction policies are spreading across the Americas and Europe. Meanwhile, other governments across the world continue to implement horrific and inhumane policies; Indonesia is set to hold a next round of executions of over a dozen people and the Philippine president-elect recently encouraged the public to kill drug dealers and made violent threats towards people who use drugs.

The UNGASS proved that change is slow to come to the UN. But with citizens across the world pushing for reform, and with countries moving ahead with novel drug policies, sooner or later the UN too will have to change to reflect new realities on the ground. And today, in cities around the globe, we will be out in the streets calling for support, not punishment.

Hannah Hetzer is the senior policy manager of the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Hannah Hetzer
Date Published: June 23, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance