Summit of the Americas: Drug War Will Be On The Table


The Coming Crisis

President Obama to Attend Summit of the Americas in Colombia This Weekend: Discussions to Include Drug Decriminalization, Legal Regulation and Other Drug War Alternatives
First Time Ever that Sitting Presidents are Calling for All Options to Be Put on Table to Reduce Drug Prohibition-Related Crime, Violence and Corruption
This week, President Obama will join more than 30 other heads of state from throughout the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia for the Summit of the Americas. For the first time ever, a major focus of the summit – both in official meetings and behind closed doors – will be the need for alternative strategies to the failed war on drugs.
The urgency of the discussion is growing in light of the prohibition-related violence in Mexico that has killed more than 50,000 people since 2006, the growing war zones in Central America, and South American governments worn down by decades of disastrous U.S.-sponsored eradication and interdiction efforts that have bred institutionalized corruption and routine violence.

Latin American leaders say they haven’t developed an alternative to the hardline approach favored by every American administration since President Richard Nixon was in office, reports Juan Forero at the Washington Post. But the Colombian government says a range of options — from decriminalizing drug possession to legalizing marijuana to regulating drug markets — will be on the table at the Summit of the Americas in the coastal city of Cartagena.

Drug Policy Alliance
Ethan Nadelmann, Drug Policy Alliance: “[T]he odds are good that this gathering will one day be viewed as a pivotal moment in the transformation from the failed global drug prohibition regime of the 20th century to a new 21st century global drug control regime better grounded in science, health, fiscal prudence and human rights”

“This is the first major gathering of heads of state at which alternatives to prohibitionist drug control policies, including decriminalization and legal regulation of currently illegal drugs, will be on the agenda,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Arguments that were articulated just five years ago primarily by intellectuals and activists, and three years ago by former presidents, are now being advanced, with growing sophistication and nuance, by current presidents.
“Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and the new president of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, are taking the lead, with varying levels of support from a growing number of other governments,” Nadelmann said. “There is now, for the first time, a critical mass of support in the Americas that ensures that this burgeoning debate will no longer be suppressed.
“Presidents Santos and Perez Molina are not the first sitting presidents to propose major drug policy reforms including consideration of legalization,” Nadelmann said. “The Uruguayan president, Jorge Batelle, did so in 2001, as did Honduran President Zelaya in 2008. Neither, however, pursued it. 
“By contrast, Presidents Santos and Perez Molina clearly understand that what’s most needed now is not advocacy for outright drug legalization but rather the initiation and legitimization of informed discussion about alternatives to counter-productive prohibitionist strategies,” Nadelmann said. “Both are proceeding carefully and strategically in developing their positions and recruiting allies at home and throughout the region.
“The shift in the public posture of the U.S. government – from rejecting any discussion of legalization to acknowledging that ‘it is a legitimate subject of debate’ – is significant notwithstanding the clear caveat by the Obama administration that it remains firmly opposed to the notion,” Nadelmann said. “Presidents Santos, Perez Molina and others have wisely seized on this opening to put the broader question of drug policy reform on the agenda at Cartagena and in upcoming international gatherings.
“Debates over drug policy in Cartagena will be far more lively behind closed doors than in the forums open to the public,” Nadelmann said. “Most presidents will probably affirm their opposition to ‘legalization’ but the more important outcome may will be an emerging consensus that the time is ripe to critically evaluate prohibitionist drug control strategies. The governments of Guatemala, Colombia and Costa Rica will likely be joined by others willing to commit to this process.
“That said, it is safe to assume that the U.S. government will do all it can to suppress, ignore, distort and otherwise derail the emerging dialogue,” Nadelmann cautioned. “U.S. officials are handicapped, however, by the remarkable failure of government agencies over the past 30 years to contemplate, much less evaluate, alternative drug control strategies. They also must contend with the fact that the United States has rapidly emerged – at the level of civil society, public opinion and state government – as a global leader in reform of marijuana policies.
“It is too soon to predict that this Summit of the Americas represents any sort of tipping point in global or even regional drug control policy,” Nadelmann concluded. “But the odds are good that this gathering will one day be viewed as a pivotal moment in the transformation from the failed global drug prohibition regime of the twentieth century to a new twenty-first century global drug control regime better grounded in science, health, fiscal prudence and human rights.”