Toward a Paradigm Shift

12 February 2009
Article

Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the desired results. We are further than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs.

Breaking the taboo, acknowledging the failure of current policies and their consequences is the inescapable prerequisite for the discussion of a new paradigm leading to safer, more efficient and humane drug policies.

 

The statement presents to the public debate the main findings of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy. Convened by former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and composed of 17 independent personalities, the Commission evaluated the impact of the “war on drugs” policies and framed recommendations for safer, more efficient and humane policies. The proposals presented in this Statement represent an in-depth paradigm shift in the strategy to deal with the drug problem in Latin America.

The long-term solution for the drug problem is to reduce drastically the demand for drugs in the main consumer countries, according to the Statement.

Treating drug users as a matter of public health and promoting the reduction of drug consumption are preconditions for focusing repressive action on two critical points: reduction of production and dismantling the networks of drug trafficking.

It is imperative to review critically the deficiencies of the prohibitionist strategy adopted by the Unites States and the benefits and drawbacks of the harm reduction strategy followed by the European Union. Each country must face the challenge of opening up a large public debate regarding the seriousness of the problem and the search for policies consistent with their history and culture.

A new paradigm to address the drug problem must be less centered on repressive measures and more regardful of national societies and cultures. Effective policies must be based on scientific knowledge and not on ideological biases. This effort must involve not only governments but all sectors of society.

To translate this paradigm shift into concrete action, we propose the adoption by Latin American countries of the following initiatives in the framework of a global process of reframing the policies for fighting the use of illicit drugs:

1. Change the status of addicts from drug buyers in the illegal market to that of patients cared for in the public health system. This change of status, combined with informational and educational campaigns, might have a significant impact in terms of reducing the demand for illegal drugs, lowering its price and, as a consequence, undermining the economic foundations of the drug business.

2. Evaluate from a public health standpoint and on the basis of the most advanced medical science the convenience of decriminalizing the possession of cannabis for personal use. Most of the damage associated with cannabis use - from the indiscriminate arrest and incarceration of consumers to the violence and corruption that affect all of society – is the result of the current prohibitionist policies.

3. Reduce consumption through campaigns of information and prevention that can be understood and accepted by young people, who account for the largest contingent of users. The far-reaching social and cultural changes that led to profound reductions in tobacco consumption show the efficiency of information and prevention campaigns based on clear language and consistent arguments.

4. Redirect repressive strategies to the unrelenting fight against organized crime.

5. Reframe the strategies of repression against the cultivation of illicit drugs. Eradication efforts must be combined with the adoption of strongly financed alternative development programs adapted to local realities in terms of viable products and conditions for their competitive access to markets.