Registered voters in California will be the ones voting next Tuesday on whether to legalize marijuana under state law. But the ballot initiative in question – Proposition 19 – has sparked debate far beyond the state’s borders. The fate of Prop 19 is being watched especially closely in Latin America, and for good reason. Proximity to the United States – still the world’s major market for illicit drugs – has helped to stimulate robust illicit drug production and distribution networks in the region. And U.S.-backed militarized enforcement to suppress the drug industry, combined with harsh laws to punish drug users, have made the “war on drugs” more than metaphorical in many Latin American countries.
Beau Kilmer, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Brittany M. Bond, Peter H. Reuter
13 October 2010
The United States’ demand for illicit drugs creates markets for Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and helps foster violence in Mexico. Some government and media sources have reported that Mexican and Colombian DTOs combined earn $18–$39 billion annually in wholesale drug proceeds and 60 percent of all Mexican DTO drug export revenue comes from marijuana. These numbers have been cited to argue that legalizing marijuana in California would reduce Mexican DTOs’ revenues, thereby reducing violence.
Under the 1976 Law on opium (Opiumwet 1976), the possession, dealing, cultivation, transportation, production, import and export of narcotic drugs, including cannabis and its derivatives, are prohibited in the Netherlands. That Member State applies a policy of tolerance with regard to cannabis. That policy is reflected inter alia in the establishment of coffee-shops, the main activities of which are the sale and consumption of that ‘soft’ drug. The local authorities may authorise such establishments in compliance with certain criteria. In a number of coffee-shops, non-alcoholic beverages and food are also sold.
A debate about legalizing marijuana and possibly other drugs — once a taboo suggestion — is percolating in Mexico, a nation exhausted by runaway violence and a deadly drug war. The debate is only likely to grow more animated if Californians approve an initiative on Nov. 2 to legalize marijuana for recreational use in their state.
Mexico's president Felipe Caldéron is the latest Latin leader to call for a debate on drugs legalisation. And in the US, liberals and right-wing libertarians are pressing for an end to prohibition. Forty years after President Nixon launched the 'war on drugs' there is a growing momentum to abandon the fight.
The new conservative Dutch government wants to force the country's marijuana cafes to become "members only" clubs, a move that would effectively block foreigners from buying the drug. If the idea ever becomes reality — it would be legally complicated and politically divisive — it would be the latest of the country's liberal policies to be scrapped or curtailed as the Dutch rethink the limits of their famed tolerance. While marijuana is technically illegal in the Netherlands, it has been sold openly in designated cafes for decades, and police make no arrests for possession of small amounts.
'Save the country, legalise drugs.' Under this striking banner, two former Dutch government ministers (for foreign affairs and health) are launching their revolutionary plan. They estimate that more than half of all the costs of crime are related to drugs. They argue that by regulating their production and sale and imposing strict government supervision, drug crime will disappear. And they say that would lead to unprecedented savings for the police and judiciary.
Former President Vicente Fox is joining with those urging his successor to legalize drugs in Mexico, saying that could break the economic power of the country's brutal drug cartels. Fox's comments, posted Sunday on his blog, came less than a week after President Felipe Calderon agreed to open the door to discussions about the legalization of drugs, even though he stressed that he remained opposed to the idea.
Legalization of drugs -- long an issue championed mainly by fringe groups -- is rapidly moving to the mainstream in Latin America. Last week's surprise statement by former Mexican President Vicente Fox in support of "legalizing production, sales and distribution" of drugs made big headlines around the world.
"I don't think that marijuana legalization will be a panacea on drug violence in Mexico," said David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. "But legalization could change the nature of the fight. Drugs are so much more profitable than any other form of illicit activity. You take away that profitability, and you cripple the organizations' ability to corrupt the state."
Since marijuana provides the Mexican gangs with up to half their income, taking that business out of their hands would change the balance of power in the drug war. Californians will vote in November on whether to legalise and tax the sale of marijuana to adults. Were the proposal to pass it would render Mexico’s assault on drug traffickers untenable, reckons Jorge Castañeda, a former foreign minister. “How would you continue with a war on drugs in Tijuana, when across the border grocery stores were selling marijuana?” he asks.
The ban on recreational drugs promotes crime and is bad for public health. Austerity measures to cut public spending are a hot topic for debate everywhere in Europe. In the Netherlands, where a new parliament will be elected next month, several proposals to reduce spending by 30 billion euros are on the table. All of these proposals hit where it hurts, but one option could actually be a welcome relief: drug regulation. (See also: Former ministers: legalise all drugs!)
In "Has the time come to legalize drugs?" Andres Oppenheimer, the influential opinion maker about Latin American affairs at the Miami Herald, describes how the debate about cannabis regulation "is rapidly moving to the mainstream in Latin America." He quotes White House drug czar Kerlikowske who argues that The Netherlands proves that relaxation of cannabis laws increases consumption, and that the Dutch government is now reversing its strategy. That requires some rectification.
Understanding the consequences of drug legalisation versus prohibition is important for policy. Most recently this subject has gained much political attention not only globally, but specifically in the Netherlands. This study will provide a contribution to the legalisation debate based on a microeconomic analysis of the effects of illegal markets. The research question is how to design a coherent soft drugs policy framework that maximizes social welfare within the Netherlands that precludes most historical, sociological and political debates. In particular, attention is restricted to ‘soft drugs’ better known as cannabis derived products like hashish and marijuana.
Within the last decade the hitherto little known psychoactive substance of khat has emerged as a regional and international issue. In the Horn of Africa khat production has spurred an economic boom, but dramatic increases in consumption have raised public health concerns. Given the complexity of the topic spanning multiple academic disciplines and fields of professional practice, the need for a systematic overview is urgent.
In August 2010, Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared that he would support a national debate on the issue of legalisation, reversing his previous stance on the subject. However, he underscored that he did not favour legalisation, particularly since the US and the international community maintained their prohibitionist approach. This IDPC Briefing Paper offers background information on the cannabis political debate in Mexico.
Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories
06 August 2010
The current international system of drug control has focused on creating a drug-free world, almost exclusively through use of law enforcement policies and criminal sanctions. Mounting evidence, however, suggests this approach has failed, primarily because it does not acknowledge the realities of drug use and dependence. While drugs may have a pernicious effect on individual lives and society, this excessively punitive regime has not achieved its stated public health goals, and has resulted in countless human rights violations.
The CATO report estimates that legalizing drugs would save roughly $41.3 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. Of these savings, $25.7 billion would accrue to state and local governments, while $15.6 billion would accrue to the federal government. Approximately $8.7 billion of the savings would result from legalization of marijuana and $32.6 billion from legalization of other drugs.
The report reviews 20 years of data from US government funded surveillance systems on government drug control spending, cannabis seizures and cannabis arrests, in order to assess the impact of enforced cannabis prohibition on cannabis potency, price and availability. The report’s findings highlight the clear failure of cannabis prohibition efforts by showing that as the United States has dramatically scaled up drug law enforcement, cannabis potency has nevertheless increased, prices have dropped, and cannabis remains widely available.
In the United States the discussion on the pros and cons of regulating cannabis is well advanced. The national television news programme CNBC has dedicated a website, Marijuana & Money, to the issue. “Many Americans support legalization and many states already permit medical use,” the site says. “An end to prohibition would generate billions in tax revenue and relieve the criminal justice system. But is it the right thing to do?”