As the world prepares for the 2016 Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS 2016), an increasing number of countries around the world now find the regime’s emphasis on punitive approaches to illicit drugs to be problematic and are asking for reform. In this moment of global disagreement, the Brookings project on Improving Global Drug Policy provides a unique comparative evaluation of the effectiveness and costs of international counternarcotics policies and best approaches to reform.
The 43-year-old war on drugs had never seen such a barrage of opposition as it did in 2014, with successful marijuana legalization initiatives in several U.S. states, California’s historic approval of sentencing reform for low level drug offenders and world leaders calling for the legal regulation of all drugs — all of which cement the mainstream appeal of drug policy alternatives and offer unprecedented momentum going into 2015.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency has now walked back statements it made about the trafficking of marijuana grown in the US to buyers in Mexico, after being met with skepticism by other law enforcement agents and experts and being pressed to divulge more information on the allegedly burgeoning problem. The claim that Mexican drug cartel members were taking US-grown weed and selling it at a premium to Mexican customers first emerged in a broader NPR report on the effects of legalized marijuana on the illicit drug trade.
Made-in-America marijuana is on a roll. More than half the states have now voted to permit pot for recreational or medical use, most recently Oregon and Alaska. As a result, Americans appear to be buying more domestic marijuana, which in turn is undercutting growers and cartels in Mexico. "Two or three years ago, a kilogram of marijuana was worth $60 to $90," says Nabor, a 24-year-old pot grower in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa. "But now they're paying us $30 to $40 a kilo. It's a big difference." (See also: DEA: Cartels now smuggle U.S. pot into Mexico)
In Mexico, since 2006 a public security strategy has been implemented based on militarization, which has prioritized the use of force – including lethal force – based on the presumption of national security above principles of the safety of citizens. Involvement of armed forces as the central axis for Mexico’s security strategy has sparked serious concerns, particularly pertaining to obligations regarding human rights.
Latin America is now at the vanguard of international efforts to promote drug policy reform: Bolivia has rewritten its constitution to recognize the right to use the coca leaf for traditional and legal purposes, Uruguay has become the first nation in the world to adopt a legal, regulated Cannabis market, and Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Ecuador are openly critiquing the prevailing international drug control paradigm at the UN. And now with the United States itself relaxing its marijuana laws state by state, the U.S. prohibitionist drug war strategies are losing credibility in the region.
Mexico and the United States cannot pursue diverging policies on marijuana legalization, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was quoted as saying, hinting he may be open to following the lead taken by some U.S. states in changing drug laws. Political pressure has grown in Mexico to take a more liberal stance on marijuana. In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais, Pena Nieto said "we can't continue on this road of inconsistency between the legalization we've had [...] in the most important consumer market, the United States, and in Mexico where we continue to criminalize production of marijuana."
Lawmakers in Mexico's national legislature and Mexico City's Legislative Assembly introduced twin bills to overhaul the country's drug possession and marijuana laws. The federal bill would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes. If passed, Mexico's federal bill would reschedule marijuana as a drug with proven therapeutic value but known risks. The same bill would also allow Mexican states to determine their own marijuana laws, including the creation of tax-and-regulate systems like the ones adopted by voters in Colorado and Washington.
Lawmakers proposed allowing the sale of marijuana within Mexico City. The local legislature controlled by the leftist Democratic Revolution Party is the most liberal in Mexico and has previously legalized abortion and gay marriage. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera supports the plan. Approval could force a legal showdown with the federal government, which would have to decide whether to effectively override the local law by enforcing federal laws barring drug trafficking, challenging the city law in the courts, or both. (See also: Mexican officials introduce bills seeking to relax marijuana laws)
The Uruguay Senate approved a bill to legalize marijuana and put its trade into state hands, in what many experts said marks a new model for the war on drugs in its principal battleground of Latin America. President José Mujica plans to sign the bill, which passed the lower house of Congress in July, into law. A Uruguayan state agency will oversee the distribution and sale of marijuana. The goal is to cut out drug trafficking and reduce the violence associated with it.
Legislators in Mexico City, the largest city in North America, are preparing to push through certain measures that would decriminalize and regulate the consumption of marijuana in the Mexican capital, a move that may speed pot legalization elsewhere in the continent. Proposals include the setting up of cannabis clubs to grow herb for their members and tolerance of anyone carrying up to 30 grams, or just over an ounce, of marijuana.
Jorge Hernández Tinajero, president of Mexico City’s Collective for a Holistic Policy Towards Drugs (CUPIHD), shares an international perspective on the historic Senate hearings this week on marijuana law reform in this guest post.
Ten days ago, the lower house of Uruguay's parliament passed a law legalising marijuana, reflecting a growing sentiment in Latin America that the current prohibition on drugs should change. Could Mexico be next?
Mexico could legalize marijuana within the next five years, stripping brutal drug cartels of a major source of income, former President Vicente Fox said on Friday. Fox, who battled the powerful cartels while president between 2000 and 2006, has since become a staunch advocate of reforming Mexico's drug laws, arguing that prohibition has helped create the criminal market that sustains the gangs.
There was a lot of drug-war hand-wringing in the U.S. leading up to President Obama’s visit to Mexico. That’s because Mexican President Peña Nieto is in change-the-conversation mode: he wants Washington to focus less on his country’s awful drug violence – some 60,000 narco-related murders in the past seven years, with little sign of abating – and more on its robust economic potential. The fear in some Washington circles is that Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which in its dictatorial 20th-century heyday was every drug lord’s cuate, or best buddy, is putting the fight against Mexico’s vicious cartels on the back burner.
The success of legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington has sparked a new conversation in a nation that is one of the world's top marijuana growers: Should Mexico, which has suffered mightily in its war against the deadly drug cartels, follow the Western states' lead? Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto,opposes legalization, but he also told CNN that the news from Washington and Colorado "could bring us to rethinking the strategy."
Faced with this soiled wedge between state legislation and federal law within the United States, Mexico's President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto and his advisors have already concluded there will have to be a significant change in their anti-narcotics policy. Weeding out the marijuana issue was prudently left to behind closed door discussions.
Like a growing number of Latin American leaders, Peña, who takes office Dec. 1, says it may be time to reassess the drug war. In an interview with TIME, Peña has made his first direct remarks on the U.S. marijuana-legalization measures and how they complicate a four-decade-old drug interdiction strategy that has been widely branded a failure in both Mexico and the U.S.