Should be an interesting weekend, as the President goes to Cartagena for the Summit of the Americas. The administration has been working for the past few months to downplay and sidetrack the huge issue that will be in the room – why Latin American countries are forced to endure massive violence in order to support the U.S.’s futile attempt to prevent people from voluntarily buying drugs.
This press conference yesterday spells out the President’s schedule, and also points out both the fact that the administration doesn’t want to talk about the real issues drug policy and the fact that others do.
In the press conference, Dan Restrepo talked about a variety of issues that the President will discuss, including a short bit about how much the administration is spending on the drug war and treatment. But the first question from the press got right to it:
Q: My question is about drug policy. Although itâ€™s not on the official agenda, several regional leaders, including the Colombian President himself, has said they intend to take the drug policy debate to the next level at this summit and of course it surrounds the call by many leaders to urge decriminalization of certain drugs and also to have a focus on U.S. consumption and reducing U.S. demand for drugs. Iâ€™m wondering, what will be the U.S. position and how in-depth do you plan to talk about this at the summit? Thank you.
MR. RESTREPO: Josh, as you know, this is not a new issue in the Americas, nor is this an issue where there is a consensus among the countries — the rest of the countries of the Americas. There are — and as youâ€™ve seen it in the course of the public debate over the last several weeks in the region — real differences of opinion on the question of legalization and decriminalization.
U.S. policy on this is very clear. The President doesnâ€™t support decriminalization. He does think this is a legitimate debate, and itâ€™s a debate that we welcome having because it helps demystify this as an option. I think that Cartagena provides a real opportunity to build on the conversation that Vice President Biden started in Honduras for the countries of Central America last month, where how is it that we can work collectively in the Americas more effectively to address the real challenges of crime and violence that societies — that too many societies are facing right now. There is no magic bullet in that debate as the challenge of — as the consumption of drugs spreads through the Americas, the response and the responsibility to address this challenge also needs to spread. And we need to ensure that weâ€™re doing everything we can to build the kinds of rule of law institutions necessary to defeat these transnational criminal organizations.
I think very much — youâ€™re right that the conversation — this will be part of the conversation in Cartagena. And we welcome the opportunity to go more in depth as to how collectively the countries of the Americas can more effectively address this challenge. And as to consumption in the United States, I think I touched on that in the introductory comments in terms of the investments and the national drug control policy changes that this President has made to address and to enhance treatment prevention and education as ways of driving down drug use and demand here in the United States.
A couple of questions later:
Q: Dan, you say that President Obama welcomed to have the debate on drugs, and even the Latin American President, President Santos, he seems to be open to the idea to decriminalize the consumption of drugs. So the question is — I mean, since you say that the U.S. position is very clear in this regard, what is the — I mean, what is the purpose? What is the penalty to have this dialogue, this debate in Cartagena when already one of the main players in this issue, the United States, doesnâ€™t seem to be able to consider any future change in the government strategy?
MR. RESTREPO: I think that the important thing to bear in mind here is this is a shared responsibility, and it is one that you have an increasing number of capable partners in the Americas who can help confront this challenge. And I think the President very much looks forward to a discussion in Cartagena about how we can do better as a group to address this challenge. […]
And this is not a debate where one country is standing in a very different place than all of the other countries. There is a variety of views on the issue of decriminalization in the Americas. The United States is among the countries who does not see this as the solution and does not see it as a viable option because of the problems that come with it, and because it wonâ€™t end transnational organized crime, but that we are — that the leaders of the region will have an opportunity to further discuss this issue and see how we can enhance our cooperation is a positive thing that should help improve the lives of people across the region.
Dancing as fast as he can.
The questions aren’t going to go away.