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Leaders and representatives of the 34 nations that make up the Organization of American States (OAS) held its annual general assembly meeting last Thursday in Guatemala to discuss a range of issues, with a debate about marijuana legalization expected to take center stage.With many of the OAS member-nations being wracked by drug war related violence, a debate over immediate solutions to curb illegal narcotics trafficking was considered to be a top priority by many attending and observing the 3-day meeting. Instead, the conference concluded with no specific judgment being given regarding the decriminalization or legalization of drugs like cannabis in the Western Hemisphere.
The milquetoast declaration’s take on the region’s drug problem reads like corporate mumbo-jumbo, saying that the issue should be handled “with an integrated, strengthened, balanced and multi-faceted approach, with full respect for human rights and individual liberties, incorporating public health, education and social inclusion.”
Wow, way to think outside the box there, folks. You’ve really shifted the paradigm of the debate.
Just two weeks prior to the meeting, the OAS released a report which called for “flexibility” in the multinational war on drugs, and suggested marijuana legalization as a possible alternative tactic to combating drug trafficking as a whole. Polling on pot south of the U.S border brings varying results, with nations like Uruguay and Mexico favoring legalization, but others, like Brazil, loudly objecting.
Guatemala’s president, Otto Molina, has vocally expressed his support for marijuana legalization, and expected the meeting’s final declaration to include some drastic changes in anti-drug policies. Instead, the group appears to be taking a page out of the Obama administration’s playbook, trying to pass off talking points for policy in the failing war on drugs.
In fact, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was among the most outspoken representatives at the gathering when it came to discussing drug policy, monotonously reciting, “These challenges simply defy any simple, one-shot, Band-Aid approach. Drug abuse destroys lives, and tears at communities of all of our countries.”
The Christian Science Monitor unsurprisingly praised the role that the U.S. played in downgrading the drug discussion, and reported that Obama administration officials “have been working for months to squash the region’s legalization efforts.”
Countries like Mexico, Columbia, and Peru see firsthand the extreme violence resulting from the region’s failure to curb drug trafficking, and they view the United States as an incredibly hypocritical actor in the political theatre surrounding legalization. As the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs, and with the debate over cannabis raging strong in America, many fellow members in the OAS feel that Mr. Kerry and President Obama should clean up their own country before dictating policy to others.
Still far from achieving nationwide marijuana legalization, America has the world watching as more and more states democratically pass medical marijuana and decriminalization laws, and as states like Washington and Colorado blaze a new trail towards full legalization for all.
Not all nations were critical of the American opposition to regional drug legalization. Alva Baptiste, the foreign minister of St. Lucia, stated, “We need a policy that is anti-crime, not pro-drug.”
Secretary General of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza, added, “the issue of legalization is not in the declaration, but it certainly is an issue that can change. Some countries have legalized marijuana, so it is an issue that is up for discussion.”
Just not this time, apparently.