Biden Gives Flimsy Defense Of Drug Prohibition To Latin America

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Cleveland Plain Dealer
Vice President Joe Biden: “There is no possibility that the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on legalization”

​Vice President Joe Biden, on a two-day visit to Mexico and Central America, said that while the drug legalization debate is “worth discussing,” there is “no possibility” that the Obama Administration will change its policy.

Biden’s statements came amid rapidly escalating demands by Latin American presidents that legalization be included among the options for reducing prohibition-related violence, crime and mayhem.
Vice President Biden meets on Tuesday with Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and other Central American leaders. The Guatemalan president has said that the legalization debate will be on their agenda.
“Vice President Biden’s comment that ‘there is no possibility that the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on legalization’ should come as no surprise,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “That comment is consistent with longstanding U.S. policy, and it’s hard to imagine the administration wanting this debate to open up in an election year.”

According to Nadelmann, Biden’s comments on the issue are noteworthy in three respects.

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Nicaragua Dispatch
Ethan Nadelmann, Drug Policy Alliance: “The shallowness of the Vice President’s comments reflects the fact that this administration, like its predecessors, has not yet bothered to even think seriously about alternatives to current policies”

​”First, the Vice President did acknowledge that ‘it is totally legitimate for this to be raised’ and ‘it’s worth discussing,’ ” Nadelmann said. “That’s more than he has previously conceded on this issue.
“It’s consistent with President Obama’s comment on January 27, 2011 — that legalization is ‘an entirely legitimate topic for debate,’ ” Nadelmann said. “And it sends a message to the drug czar and other fedeal officials who to date have rejected any such discussion out of hand that it’s now OK to at least talk about it, and perhaps engage the growing debate.
“Second, what’s most striking about Biden’s comments on the subject is the flimsiness of his arguments,” Nadelmann said. “To focus, as he reportedly did, on the need, with legalization, to create ‘a costly bureaucracy to regulate the drugs and new addicts’ while downplaying the fact that any such bureaucracy would cost a small fraction of what it currently costs instead to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate millions of people for drug law violations, seems absurd.
” ‘The debate,’ [Biden] said, ‘always occurs, understandably, in the context of serious violence that occurs with the society, particularly in societies that don’t have the institutional framework and the structure to deal with organized, illicit operations.’ But it’s worth pointing out that the debate over legalization has been most vigorous with respect to marijuana, and in countries like the Netherlands, which don’t jib with the context Biden says is central,” Nadelmann said.
“The shallowness of the Vice President’s comments reflects the fact that this administration, like its predecessors, has not yet bothered to even think seriously about alternatives to current policies,” Nadelmann said.
“And third, Biden’s public comments rejecting legalization, combined with whatever private pressures are applied by him and other U.S. officials to shut down the burgeoning debate, will almost certainly not end the discussion,” Nadelmann said. “Not when the Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose members include George Shultz, Paul Volcker, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Ernest Zedillo, Cesar Gaviria, Javier Solana and others of comparable distinction, has made an impressive case both for reforming drug control policies and ‘breaking the taboo’ on public debate.

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Nicaragua Dispatch
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina is moving forward strategically to ensure that the crucial drug legalization debate is not foreclosed

​”Not when Presidents Felipe Calderon, Juan Manuel Santos, Otto Perez Molina, Laura Chinchilla and others have each joined their call in various ways,” Nadelmann continued. “Not when prominent business and other civic leaders increasingly are doing so as well. And not so long as the punitive, prohibitionist policies promoted by the U.S. government continue to wreak such great havoc in so many parts of the world.
“Colombia’s President Santos, who was the first president to speak publicly, beginning in late 2011, in support of legalization, reportedly had been looking for other presidents to join him in stepping out,” Nadelmann said. “He’s now found just the sort of ally he needs in Guatemala’s new president, Otto Perez Molina.
“It’s long been said that a ‘Nixon goes to China’ scenario is the best option for really opening up the debate about alternatives to failed prohibitionist policies,” Nadelmann said. “Otto Perez Molina is a political conservative and a former general who played a pivotal role two decades ago in securing the military’s agreement to the peace agreement that ended the country’s long civil war.
“He’s just started his four-year term, and is moving forward strategically to ensure that this crucial debate is not foreclosed,” Nadelmann said. “This issue will be on the agenda at the annual Summit of the Americas in Cartagena in April, and in national, regional and international gatherings thereafter.”
“The key is to get the intensity of the debate to a level where the U.S. government feels obliged to participate,” Nadelmann said. “Once they have to engage in the debate, then it becomes something of a new ballgame.”
“Whoever is in the White House for the next four years is going to need to step up their game in this debate,” Nadelmann said. “Because now it’s not going away.”
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