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February 2009
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Latin American leaders say Legalize Marijuana

Former presidents blast drug repression efforts

RIO DE JANEIRO – Three former Latin American presidents said Wednesday that regional policymakers should consider the decriminalization of marijuana because long-standing attempts to curb the production and trafficking of illicit drugs have failed.
In a report by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, former presidents Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil said “we are farther than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs.” […]
“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,” the report said.

Here’s the report, and it’s quite powerful.

Violence and the organized crime associated with the narcotics trade
are critical problems in Latin America today. Confronted with a situation
that is growing worse by the day, it is imperative to rectify the war on
drugs strategy pursued in the region over the past 30 years.
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 expected results. We are farther
than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs.

And check this out:

Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears
and ideological visions. The whole issue has become taboo which
inhibits public debate. The association of drugs with crime blocks the
circulation of information and segregates drug users in closed circles
where they become even more exposed to organized crime.
Hence, breaking the taboo and acknowledging the failure of current
policies and their consequences is the inescapable prerequisite for
opening up the discussion about a new paradigm leading to safer,
more efficient and humane drug policies.

Wow.
It’s not a perfect report — it still talks in terms of reducing drug consumption, rather than reducing drug abuse (an important distinction), but still, a very good report.
In other world news, it appears that the Obama administration is at least making an effort to change the U.S. position in Vienna, by now supporting needle exchange internationally.

Until last week, US officials had been pushing hard for anti-drug programs reminiscent of the zero-tolerance stand of former President George W. Bushs so-called war on drugs and the talks were at an impasse. […]
Now, it looks like the tone is changing. Obama has long wanted to repeal the 1988 ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs inside the United States, but he needs Congress to go along to make that domestic change. So hes shifting his gaze outward. In a significant break from both Mr. Bush and Bill Clinton before him, Barack Obama is making his support for needle exchange programs official, at least abroad. Today, Laura Tischler of the State Department confirmed the US is giving its negotiators new guidelines.

The shift is important, and better than Bush or Clinton, but not enough, as it still leaves much of the rest of the harm reduction agenda off the table.
Update: The Wall Street Journal covers the story of the Latin American study, but turn to John Walters and similar drug warriors for comment, getting the horrifically wrong “people are dying so we must be doing something right” argument:

Mr. Walters said increased violence in border areas of Mexico was partly a result of criminal organizations compensating for reduced income from the supply of drugs by turning to other activities, such as people-smuggling, and continuing to fight over turf.
U.S. law-enforcement officials — as well as some of their counterparts in Mexico — say the explosion in violence indicates progress in the war on drugs as organizations under pressure are clashing.
“If the drug effort were failing there would be no violence,” a senior U.S. official said Wednesday. There is violence “because these guys are flailing. We’re taking these guys out. The worst thing you could do is stop now.”
Latin American governments have largely followed U.S. advice in trying to stop the flow of drugs from the point of origin. The policy has had little effect.

A note to ‘senior U.S. official’ who won’t even put his name to his ridiculous comments: In the words of Seth Meyers: “Really?!?” Really, Mr. Senior U.S. Official? Have you read the news recently? Drug gangs going into a jail to make a hit. Senior Mexican drug officials taken out a week after assuming the job. Police and government officials implicated at every level. And you’re taking these guys out, Mr. Senior Official? Really? ‘Cause it looks like they’re taking you out.
Read an interesting quote (possibly not completely technically accurate as a definition criticism, but correct nonetheless)…

Mexico is being torn apart by drug gangs, often wrongly called cartels. Cartels are created to uphold prices. In the case of Mexico, it is law enforcement and the prohibition of drugs that upholds prices and makes drug dealing irresistibly profitable.