On Apr. 19-21, delegates from around the world will convene at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Narcotic Drugs (UNGASS), which hasn't been held since 1998 when the slogan for the event was: "A Drug Free World, We Can Do It."

With countries including Uruguay, Canada, Mexico and parts of the United States reforming their marijuana laws, it's possible that the UNGASS 2016 will discuss cannabis in terms of legalization and harm reduction rather than prohibition and incarceration.

That debate would involve calling on the UN to amend international treaties that uphold international prohibition of marijuana and other banned substances. But any countries hoping to spark that discussion face stiff opposition from a block of countries that don't want to repeal the death penalty for drug offences, let alone consider liberalizing marijuana laws.

Some nations have the death penalty for drug offences

A number of Asian and Middle Eastern countries have the death penalty for non-violent drug offences, said David Borden of Stop the Drug War during a April 6 teleconference with North American activists and advocates. Journalists were invited to tune in and ask questions.

"These countries have not only sworn their allegiance to the drug control conventions, as many countries [including the U.S., Canada and Mexico] did...but a number of them actively stated there's a need to oppose legalization," said Borden.

Borden argues that those countries are acting hypocritically on the issue because they want the freedom to impose the death penalty on non-violent drug offenders, but they refuse to allow other nations to pursue legalization and regulation as a drug policy for substances like marijuana.

"It's their entitled decision [regarding] what kind of drug policies they have," said Borden. "And if they think that the death penalty is a proportionate punishment for non-violent drug offences, that's what they think. [But] they're actively telling the rest of the world that it's not okay to do legalization. They're trying to tell the rest of us what to do. So there's nothing consistent whatsoever in the positions of these countries."

Those countries impede progress for others

But unless those countries agree to amend the international treaties, they will continue to "hold progress ransom," said Donald MacPherson, Executive Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.

"I find it really hard to understand why countries like Russia and Singapore are holding other countries hostage to...modernizing the drug treaties."

So instead of fulfilling hopes of reform, UNGASS might spotlight how backward international drug policy remains.