In the failed “War on Drugs”, President Obama appears to be standing alone in his refusal to consider the alternative to the “zero tolerance” policy which has been an abject failure, that has cost thousands of lives, imprisoned millions, mostly minorities for minor offenses, and cost billions of dollars. At the recent Summit of the Americas in Colombia, demands by the leaders of Latin American countries for exploring the option of legalizing drugs and institutional regulations are being dismissed by Pres. Obama.
With demand for drugs increasing and drug-related violence worsening, we ask if it is time to reassess drug policies.
“Drug addiction in the vast majority of countries is a very serious public health problem. Drug trafficking continues to be the principle financier of violence and terrorism. Colombia and many other countries in the region believe it is necessary to begin a discussion, an analysis of this issue, without judgment and without dogmas, and look at the different scenarios and the possible alternatives to confronting this challenge with the greatest effectiveness.”
Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian president
With the total failure of the drug war causing many Latin American political leaders to publicly question the wisdom of prohibition, President Obama was forced to repeatedly address the issue this weekend at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. Unfortunately, Obama did his best to quickly dismiss the topic with incoherent excuses. From the LA Times:
Facing calls at a regional summit to consider decriminalization, Obama said he is open to a debate about drug policy, but he believes that legalization could lead to greater problems in countries hardest hit by drug-fueled violence.
“Legalization is not the answer,” Obama told other hemispheric leaders at the two-day Summit of the Americas.
“The capacity of a large-scale drug trade to dominate certain countries if they were allowed to operate legally without any constraint could be just as corrupting, if not more corrupting, than the status quo,” he said.
This is simply an absurd defense of prohibition. If drugs were legalized and regulated like any other product, the business running them would be operate like any other legal business such as beer breweries, pharmaceutical makers, car manufacturers, alcohol distillers, dairies, etc. While corporations can and sometimes do have a corrupting influence over a nation’s politics, the idea that the level of corruption and violence from a legal business would ever be on the scale that we see with the cartels in the illicit drug trade doesn’t pass the laugh test.
Watershed summit will admit that prohibition has failed, and call for more nuanced and liberalised tactics
Otto Pérez Molina, the president of Guatemala, who as former head of his country’s military intelligence service experienced the power of drug cartels at close hand, is pushing his fellow Latin American leaders to use the summit to endorse a new regional security plan that would see an end to prohibition. In the Observer, Pérez Molina writes: “The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated.”
Pérez Molina concedes that moving beyond prohibition is problematic. “To suggest liberalisation – allowing consumption, production and trafficking of drugs without any restriction whatsoever – would be, in my opinion, profoundly irresponsible. Even more, it is an absurd proposition. If we accept regulations for alcoholic drinks and tobacco consumption and production, why should we allow drugs to be consumed and produced without any restrictions?”
He insists, however, that prohibition has failed and an alternative system must be found. “Our proposal as the Guatemalan government is to abandon any ideological consideration regarding drug policy (whether prohibition or liberalisation) and to foster a global intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach to drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that drug consumption and production should be legalised, but within certain limits and conditions.” [..]
Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil and chairman of the global commission on drug policy, has said it is time for “an open debate on more humane and efficient drug policies”, a view shared by George Shultz, the former US secretary of state, and former president Jimmy Carter.
This is a discussion that is long past due.