An interesting white paper: Rehabilitating the war on drugs: Central America and the legalisation debate by Chris Abbott and Joel Vargas at Open Briefing.
I found these passages to be a particularly good description of the U.S. approach toward the drug war and how it impacts Central America:
The war on drugs is the ultimate manifestation of the dominant security orthodoxy, which believes that military force can ultimately control insecurity. In the same way the war on terror essentially aimed to â€˜keep the lidâ€™ on terrorism and insecurity without addressing the root causes of perceived injustices, the war on drugs aims to keep the lid on the rising tide of cartel violence without addressing the root causes of illicit drug consumption in North America. Security policies based on this â€˜control paradigmâ€™ are often self-defeating in the long term as they simply create a pressure cooker effect. […]
What do the external powers fear so much? In short, the potential decriminalisation or legalisation of drugs in Central America threatens the foundations of deliberate policies enacted by North America and elsewhere.
Central to any war fought using the control paradigm are the principles of protecting the homeland by keeping the violence â€˜over thereâ€™ and the near complete attention given to tackling external consequences rather than resolving any internal causes. These principles formed the core of the war on terror strategy and lie at the heart of the war on drugs. Legalising drugs in Central America would mean the fight could no longer be carried out elsewhere and would force the consumer markets of North America to look inwards at the internal drivers of the illicit drugs trade.
The white paper goes on to suggest phased-in decriminalization and/or legalization of drugs, in ways that mostly make sense, although I wasn’t sure if this was tongue in cheek:
If successful, this strategy could be extended to include more harmful drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana (the principal targets of the American war on drugs) and encompass the regulation of production and distribution.
… more harmful drugs? Than what?