|Juan Manuel Santos receives the OAS drug report from OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza yesterday in the Casa de Nariño.|
An Organization of American States report presented yesterday in Bogotá recommends drug decriminalization.
“Decriminalization of drug use needs to be considered as a core element in any public health strategy,” concluded the OAS group.
The U.S. government had declared itself open to discussing alternative drug war strategies - just as long as it was clear that only option would be more prohibition.
Predictably, Washington's response to this latests report was to play the same old broken record.
"Any suggestion that nations legalize drugs like heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine runs counter to an evidenced-based, public health approach to drug policy and are not viable alternatives,” said a U.S. government drug policy spokesman.
What evidence is that? More than a decade ago, Portugal decriminalized possessing all drugs, and observers generally consider the experiment a success. On the other hand, the violence fueled by drug prohibition is undeniable evidence of prohibition's failure.
The U.S. position looks increasingly absurd when two U.S. states have legalized marijuana and the drug is de-facto legal (in the guise of 'medial marijuana') in more than a dozen other states - and those U.S. states haven't collapsed into anarchy.
Colombian Pres. Juan Manuel Santos was present at the report's presentation and welcomed its ideas.
"This was what we wanted," Santos said, "empirical evidence without prejudice, and now the real work begins, which is the discussion at the political level. Let it be clear that no one here is defending any position, neither legalization, nor regulation, nor war at any cost.
Many Latin Americans have long believed that Washington insisted on the futile War on Drugs as an excuse to meddle in Latin America. I believe rather that the U.S. insists on these policies for domestic reasons - it doesn't look good to retreat in any kind of war.
But as the U.S.'s position becomes more untenable, it only makes conspiracy theories look more believable.
A U.S. official recently warned that countries should take into consideration the impacts on other countries of their domestic drug policies. That's fair enough. So, is the U.S. looking at the epidemic of violence which its own prohibitionist policies have unleashed across Latin America?
How will this report affect drug policy? I expect it to nudge forward efforts underway, most notably in Uruguay, to legalize marijuana. The report itself observed that the region has little support for legalizing cocaine - even tho cocaine trafficking fuels much of the region's violence. But, in the same way that some call marijuana the 'gateway drug' for drug abuse, perhaps it will also be a gateway for legalization.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours