The war on drugs is a lost war, and 2011 is the time to move away from a punitive approach in order to pursue a new set of policies based on public health, human rights, and commonsense. These were the core findings of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy that I convened, together with former presidents Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia.
The outcome of this militarisation of drugs policy has been overwhelmingly negative. Military involvement in such an irregular war was not only unrealistic, but has also proved counterproductive. Every once in a while, a momentous triumph is announced in one or another country. But within a few years, the proliferation of front lines in the "war on drugs" reveals that such "success" was, at best, a pyrrhic victory. Meanwhile, democracy deteriorates, national insecurity spreads and human rights violations worsen.
If there is a "war on drugs", this is it. Mexico is undergoing worse violence than has been seen in Latin America in decades. President Felipe Calderon's decision to take the fight to the narcos has been returned with drug gang brutality on a massive scale. If any good is to come out of the tragedy afflicting Mexico, it is that the misguided global approach to drug regulation will be challenged and may, eventually, be changed.
After 40 years of defeat and failure, America's "war on drugs" is being buried in the same fashion as it was born – amid bloodshed, confusion, corruption and scandal. US agents are being pulled from South America; Washington is putting its narcotics policy under review, and a newly confident region is no longer prepared to swallow its fatal Prohibition error. Indeed, after the expenditure of billions of dollars and the violent deaths of tens of thousands of people, a suitable epitaph for America's longest "war" may well be the plan, in Bolivia, for every family to be given the right to grow coca in its own backyard.