About 200 students and youth allies will demonstrate outside of a high-level United Nations meeting on the global war on drugs in New York tonight. They are distressed that youth and other anti-prohibition voices have been ignored by world leaders, many of whom seem set on continuing the same criminalization-based approaches that have failed for decades.
The activists will stage performance art pieces, including slam poetry readings. Visual art depicting the harms of drug prohibition, from as far away as Afghanistan and Eastern Europe, will be displayed, and students will give short soapbox speeches to make their voices heard.
The United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs is the highest-level gathering on the topic in nearly two decades. There, heads of state and diplomats will have the opportunity to discuss revising international drug control treaties that threaten to stand in the way of humane, evidence-based drug law reforms like marijuana legalization and access to harm reduction services as a growing number of U.S. states and other countries move toward ending prohibition.
WHO: 200 student activists opposed to the war on drugs
WHAT: Demonstrations outside UN drug war summit, including street theater and visual art
WHEN: Tonight, Monday, April 18; 4:00 PM - 6:00 PM ET
WHERE: Dag Hammarskjold Plaza; E. 47 St. between 1st Ave. and 2nd Ave.; New York City -- http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/dag-hammarskjold-plaza
"The war on drugs has always been waged in the name of protecting young people from the dangers of drugs, but we know that our generations are put at even greater risk by these punitive criminalization policies," said Betty Aldworth, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), the group organizing the demonstration. "It's unacceptable for leaders who are supposed to represent us to continue ignoring our concerns about laws that directly impact us."
The last UNGASS, in 1998, used the slogan "A Drug Free World, We Can Do It!" But since then, drugs have not disappeared, and many jurisdictions have moved away from a failed criminalization approach. Four U.S. states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana, for example, as has Uruguay. Canada's new prime minister campaigned on ending cannabis prohibition. Marijuana reforms are also moving forward in Mexico, and at least five additional U.S. states are expected to vote on legalizing cannabis this November.
The students are also releasing a declaration outlining how the failed war on drugs puts their generations at risk. "Preventative measures often based on 'just say no' rhetoric have done little to empower and educate youth to increase health and reduce drug harms, despite generously funded campaigns," it reads. "Abstinence-only education is not a sufficient response to youth drug use, as it is important to recognize some youth will nonetheless choose to use drugs." The more than 60 groups signing on want to see a shift toward harm reduction approaches that keep people who use drugs -- and their communities -- as safe as possible.
The UN demonstrations immediately follow SSDP's international conference in Washington, D.C., from which students are being bussed to New York. Journalists wishing to cover both events can embed on the bus.
More information about the UN events in New York are at http://ssdp.org/events/ungass-youth-demonstration/ and details on the conference are at http://ssdp.org/events/ssdp2016/
The youth declaration is online at http://ssdp.org/assets/Alternate-Youth-UNGASS-Consultation.pdf
Students for Sensible Drug Policy's 5,000 members advocate for replacing the disastrous war on drugs with policies rooted in evidence, compassion and human rights. We mobilize from 300 schools around the globe to make change from the campus to the UN because the war on drugs is a war on us.