At the annual UN General Assembly meeting held in New York, presidents from around the world have the chance to state their views on the key international issues of the day. Not surprisingly, the crisis in Syria, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Millennium Development Goals took center stage this year. Yet a careful viewing of the speeches of the Latin American presidents illustrates the growing voice of Latin American leaders calling for meaningful reform of drug control policies.
The "war on drugs" has not been won, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told the United Nations, exhorting the world body to add teeth to the Special Session on Drugs in 2016, proposed by Mexico and accepted by the world body. The Organization of American States was commissioned to study new approaches to combating illegal drugs. The studies were delivered in May proposing that the United Nations give them serious consideration in time for the special session on drugs.
Latin America has emerged at the vanguard of efforts to promote debate on drug policy reform. For decades, Latin American governments largely followed the drug control policies and programs of Washington’s so-called war on drugs. Yet two parallel trends have resulted in a dramatic change in course: the emergence of left-wing governments that have challenged Washington’s historic patterns of unilateralism and interventionism and growing frustration with the failure of the prohibitionist drug control model put forward by the US government.
At the root of the drug policy debate in Latin America is growing recognition that present policies have failed to achieve the desired objectives, the extremely high costs of implementing those policies paid by Latin American countries, and the need to place higher priority on reducing unacceptably high levels of violence. Of particular concern is the spread of organized crime and the resulting violence, corruption and erosion of democratic institutions.
A whiff of change is in the air regarding drug control policy. Officials in two American states, Colorado and Washington, are pondering how to implement their voters’ decisions last November to legalise cannabis. One immediate consequence is that the United States will be in breach of the UN Convention. Good. It should now join Latin American governments in an effort to reform that outdated document to allow signatories room to experiment. Imposing a failed policy on everybody benefits nobody.
Kofi Annan Secretary General of the United Nations, Fernando Henrique Cardoso
05 November 2013
Each year, hundreds of thousands of people around the world die from preventable drug-related disease and violence. Millions of users are arrested and thrown in jail. Globally, communities are blighted by drug-related crime. Citizens see huge amounts of their taxes spent on harsh policies that are not working. But despite this clear evidence of failure, there is a damaging reluctance worldwide to consider a fresh approach. The Global Commission on Drug Policy is determined to help break this century-old taboo. See IDPC Press Release.
Major divisions over the global "war on drugs" have been revealed in a leaked draft of a UN document setting out the organisation's long-term strategy. The draft, written in September shows there are serious divisions over the longstanding US-led policy promoting prohibition as an solution to the problem. Instead, a number of countries are pushing for the "war on drugs" to be seen in a different light, placing greater emphasis on treating drug consumption as a public health problem, rather than a criminal justice matter. (See also: Drug control policies are changing: Why? And why has it taken so long?)