Ahead of the upcoming Summit of the Americas, news stories are trickling out that a number of Central and South American Presidents are going to press for a discussion on the failed policy of drug prohibition. The Guardian actually has a well thought-out, informative editorial stressing the importance of this summit:
Throughout this period, America’s position as the dominant ideological force in prosecuting the war on drugs went unchallenged. They took the war south and met little resistance. Often, they were welcomed by countries that accepted help in combating drug cartels.
But that mood is starting to shift and America’s position is now being challenged, increasingly and vociferously, by its neighbours in South and Central America. They have seen drugs, and the attendant war, pulverise and very nearly break a succession of countries in the region. There is a growing sense that the “drug-producing” nations in Latin America are bearing the brunt of the violence while the “drug-consuming” nations (principally America and in Europe) remain relatively unscathed.
This message will be delivered with force during the Summit of the Americas, which will be attended by the leaders of 36 countries, including President Obama, later this week in Colombia. As our story reveals, all the countries of the Americas will sit down and, for the first time, have a formal discussion about the war on drugs. They will try to reach a formal agreement to study new, evidence-based approaches to tackling drugs – everything from a new war on drugs to complete legalisation. This is a watershed moment.
The landmark article by the Guatemalan president is another sign of the shift in the debate. He suggests we stop looking at this issue from an ideological position but, instead, treat drug consumption as a public health issue. It is perfectly possible to agree that drugs are bad for our health without wanting to prohibit them.
As President Molina says: “Nobody in the world has ever suggested eradicating sugar cane plantations, or potatoes and barley production, in spite of them being raw materials used in the production of alcoholic drinks. Similarly, nobody has ever advocated the fumigation of tobacco plantations. Yet we all know that alcoholism and tobacco cause thousands of deaths every year all over the world.”
Some Latin American politicians are openly discussing the possibility of a regulated market for drugs. There are precedents. The sales of firearms, alcohol, tobacco and legal drugs are subject to varying degrees of regulation. A regulated market would move the market out of the murderous, barbarous hands of the cartels and into the free market. It would facilitate the introduction of the type of public health programmes that have been so effective in reducing smoking. And it could regulate the strength and even safety of many drugs.
The debate on the drug war is shifting and America is in danger of being left behind.
Indeed. Getting the United States to even consider the topic worthy of discussion is in and of itself a major achievement, but at the same time this development should be viewed as a first tentative baby-step, especcially in light of recent remarks by our Vice President:
Vice President Joseph R. Biden said on a recent trip through Mexico and Honduras that the United States will not budge in its opposition to drug legalization. Although Biden said the idea of legalization “warrants discussion,” he said the U.S. has a firm policy that legalized drugs would create more problems than they solve.
While the tide is turning in public opinion on the drug war, the American people still have a long way to go to get our elected officials to change our government’s policy. I don’t believe one summit in Columbia will be enough.