United Nation’s 67th Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria

My recent days have been marked by extensive discussions, calls, and group assessments of the proceedings at the United Nations over the past weeks. Each interaction has underscored the profound impact I took away from both my attendances at last year’s United Nations 66th, as well as this year’s 67th Commission on Narcotic Drugs (UN-CND). It was a pivotal moment that afforded me the opportunity to connect with a diverse and highly knowledgeable cohort of cannabis activists. This group comprises medical doctors, government advisors, medical patients, war veterans, social scientists, researchers, and many others. The collective expertise and passion demonstrated by these individuals underscore the significant influence of civil society in shaping policy and discourse.

After my inaugural attendance, I was invited to join the ‘International Coalition of Drug Policy Reform & Environmental Justice’ and assumed a supporting role within my sending NGO, Fields of Green For All from South Africa, to partake in the UN CND.

These opportunities not only kept me connected but also facilitated significant learning about the inner workings of the United Nations. The initial dividends of this immersion became apparent this year, as I found myself increasingly at ease navigating the UN landscape—a realm characterised by its raw authenticity, devoid of hierarchical structures. While the UN imposes strict protocols dictating permissible actions, speaking and seating arrangements, its environment fosters unexpected encounters that defy traditional power dynamics.

Allow me to illustrate this notion with an anecdote: Within a span of one hour and fifteen minutes, I bore witness to a sequence of events emblematic of the UN’s unique atmosphere. Seated merely meters away from the former president of South Africa, KGALEMA MOTLANTHE, during a side event on invitation only, attended by the esteemed Myrtle Clarke from FGA, I observed firsthand as she sought support for her NGO’s commendable policy initiatives in support of South African cannabis/ dagga farmers, with positive notion. Shortly thereafter, while en route to the smokers’ corner, I crossed paths with Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, who had just given his remarks for the general assembly.

Far from merely recounting these encounters, my intent is to underscore the inclusive nature of the UN, wherein individuals from diverse backgrounds converge to exchange ideas and drive policy initiatives forward. Indeed, the proximity to influential figures facilitates direct and urgent dialogue—a stark departure from the bureaucratic hurdles that often impede effective communication. In essence, it is this accessibility and shared commitment to progress that defines the essence of the UN experience. Yet change still happens very slowly, however this year saw some new developments, as for the first time since 1946 the Vienna consensus got broken. As expert Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli put it: “…it’s a big change, but note that they broke the consensus still to vote almost 99% in favour and zero against, just three abstentions … so it’s half broken somehow (the Vienna consensus) … Important is that since 1946 they always agreed, now somehow they still agree but they’re ready to disagree.”

The contributions made by civil society through exhibitions, info tables, and side events play a vital role in providing much-needed education about the real situations on the ground, for Indigenous communities, farmers and those whose voices can’t be carried directly to the UN space. Gaining more visibility this year were the topics of Indigenous traditional practices and safeguarding of endangered species like psilocybin mushrooms, or traditional plants like coca and cannabis, among others.

Reflecting on my experiences this year, it’s evident that there’s a significant focus on Alternative Development. However, within my peer groups, we unanimously agree that more progress is needed in this area. Initiatives like replacing coca with coffee may represent a solution at first glimpse, but they do not align with the principles of self-governance and respecting our Indigenous brothers and sisters, nor do they address the real harms caused by prohibition on plants. The declaration to make traditional plants illicit substances only serves to perpetuate shadow economies, black markets, furthering criminality, environmental destruction and further exploitation of natural resources, all fuelling the climate crisis.

It’s a privilege to shadow warriors like Farid GHEHIOUECHE, Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, Myrtle Clarke and Michael Krawitz at work, as these individuals have been tirelessly advocating for policy change at the UN for decades, and their dedication is truly inspiring and essential to newcomers to find their way around.

For quite some time, this group had been harboring an idea that could easily be dismissed as wishful thinking. However, on Sunday, the 17th of March, this idea materialized into reality with the inaugural General Assembly of the Cannabis Embassy as a sui generis ad’hoc independent State without a territory (similarly to the Order of Malta).

This historic moment was so profound that its significance may take some time to fully grasp. It marked the establishment of a world reminiscent of a century ago, before humans began imposing bans on a plant that ultimately led to the institution of prohibition. This prohibition continues to occupy significant resources within the UN, prompting a need for adaptation to changing times. It reminds us of our responsibility not to criminalise natural systems.

Here’s to many more years of growth in this space and to forming partnerships with even more civically engaged individuals from diverse geographies and backgrounds. Together, we can work towards bridging the gap of social and climate injustice and moving closer to achieving justice for all while respecting our planet’s precious ecosystems.

Maren Krings Photography
Scroll to Top