Remarkable drug policy developments are taking place in Latin America. This is not only at the level of political debate, but is also reflected in actual legislative changes in a number of countries. All in all there is an undeniable regional trend of moving away from the ‘war on drugs’. This briefing explains the background to the opening of the drug policy debate in the region, summarises the most relevant aspects of the ongoing drug law reforms in some countries, and makes a series of recommendations that could help to move the debate forward in a productive manner.
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.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has repeated his suggestion that Guatemala and the other nations of Central America should consider decriminalizing drugs in order to help reduce violence. The president said he will propose legalizing drugs in Central America in an upcoming meeting with the region's leaders. Maybe Otto Perez Molina does not believe that decriminalization is a viable option, but instead is raising the stakes of the game in order to get the US's attention and getting the US to contribute more resources to battling narcotrafficking in Central America.
Vice President Joe Biden heads to Latin America Sunday amid unprecedented pressure from political and business leaders to talk about something U.S. officials have no interest in debating: decriminalizing drugs. Presidents of Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia and Mexico, all grappling with the extremely violent fallout of a failing drug war, have said in recent weeks they'd like to open up the discussion of legalizing drugs. Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Mexico already allow the use of small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption, while political leaders from Brazil and Colombia are discussing alternatives to locking up drug users.
Latin American leaders are increasingly speaking out against prohibition. And public opinion in America, especially when it comes to legalizing pot, is shifting very rapidly. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has wrapped up a trip to Mexico and Honduras, where he held talks with Central American leaders on regional security efforts and drug trafficking. Biden’s visit comes amid an emerging rift between the Obama administration and its Central American allies on the drug war. There is a growing belief among Central American leaders that decriminalization and legalization of some drugs could help reduce the power of drug cartels and reduce the bloodshed connected to the drug war.
Given the recent calls by several Latin American presidents for a debate on legalising drugs, would the United States show any flexibility in its stance on prohibition? “None,” was the answer of Joe Biden, America’s vice-president, who was in Mexico City on March 5th to meet the three main contenders in July’s presidential race. Mr Biden arrived under unprecedented pressure from regional presidents for the United States to give way on prohibition, which many in the region blame for generating appalling violence.
Over the past six months the debate on drugs has moved into the open, as sitting heads of state have gone on the record for the first time to say that they would be prepared to consider legalising narcotics rather than fruitlessly fight them. One of the strongest advocates of radical reform has been Otto Pérez Molina. Mr Pérez, a former head of military intelligence, campaigned promising an “iron fist” against crime. He now suggests that the best way to crush Latin America’s drug mafias might be to remove their main source of revenue from the criminal economy by legalising it.
Over the past year, the world has eyed Latin America as it has forged forward, in both policy and politics, with a rethink of the “war on drugs.” (See our recent cover story on “Latin America reinventing the war on drugs” here.) But tomorrow, the world will be watching the United States, the birthplace of the “war on drugs,” as three states vote on legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.
Voters in Colorado and Washington state who approved the recreational use of marijuana Tuesday sent a salvo from the ballot box that will ricochet around Latin America, a region that's faced decades of bloodshed from the U.S.-led war on drugs. Experts said the moves were likely to give momentum to countries such as Uruguay that are marching toward legalization, to undercut Mexican criminal gangs and to embolden those who demand greater debate about how to combat illegal substances.
Michael Weissenstein, E. Eduardo Castillo (Associated Press)
07 နိုဝင်ဘာလ 2012
The legalization of recreational marijuana in the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado will force Mexico to rethink its efforts to halt marijuana smuggling across the border, the main adviser to Mexico's president-elect said. Luis Videgaray, head of incoming President Enrique Pena Nieto's transition team, told Radio Formula that the Mexican administration taking power in three weeks remains opposed to drug legalization.
A group of Latin American leaders declared that votes by two U.S. states to legalize marijuana have important implications for efforts to quash drug smuggling, offering the first government reaction from a region increasingly frustrated with the U.S.-backed war on drugs. The declaration by the leaders of Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Costa Rica did not explicitly say they were considering weakening their governments' efforts against marijuana smuggling, but it strongly implied the votes last week in Colorado and Washington would make enforcement of marijuana bans more difficult.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon says the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in two U.S. states limits that country's "moral authority" to ask other nations to combat or restrict illegal drug trafficking. Calderon says the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado represents a fundamental change that requires the rethinking of public policy in the entire Western Hemisphere.
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.
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.
Leaders from across Latin America responded within days of the Colorado and Washington vote, demanding a review of drug-war policies that have mired the region in violence. Latin American decisionmakers are now openly questioning why they should continue to sacrifice police and soldiers to enforce drug laws when legal markets for marijuana now exist in the U.S.
German officials take a decidedly cool stance toward drug policy reform. No top politician with a major German party is about to call for a new drug policy or even the legalization of marijuana. Drugs are not a winning issue, because it's too easy to get burned. Germany lacks the political pressure to change. There were 986 drug-related deaths in Germany in 2011, the smallest number since 1988. Drug use is declining in all age groups. So why change anything?
An Organization of American States study in response to calls by some Latin American leaders for rethinking the war on drugs advocates serious discussion of legalizing marijuana. “Sooner or later decisions in this area will need to be taken,” the study says, although it no proposals or specific recommendations on any issue are made. The $2.2 million study was hailed as historic by drug policy reform advocates who call the more than $20 billion that Washington has spent on counterdrug efforts in Latin America over the past decade a damaging waste of taxpayer money.
Following the release of a major draft report on drug policy in the Americas, the secretary-general of the Organisation of American States (OAS) called for the beginning of debate aimed at reforming those policies throughout the region. Many of the region’s leaders have expressed frustration with the limits and exorbitant costs of current policies and their desire for a more creative debate. But according to John Walsh, who participated in writing the OAS report, there is a lot of scepticism over whether the OAS will be up to the task, especially given U.S. domination of the issue.
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.
Argentina has given the first sign that Uruguay’s groundbreaking cannabis reform just may have started a domino effect across Latin America. Following the momentous vote by its smaller neighbor’s senate this month — making it the first nation in the world to completely legalize the cannabis — Argentina’s anti-drug czar Juan Carlos Molina has called for a public discussion in his country about emulating the measure. His comments are the clearest sign yet that Uruguay’s strategy has kicked off a trend in the region.