Slowly but steadily, Latin American leaders are arguing that a new approach is needed to the war on drugs. At the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Columbia, Barack Obama will meet with Latin American leaders. For the first time since the war on drugs began in the 1970s, there will be discussion on trying to find a third way between outright prohibition and legalization of illegal drugs.
Guatemala’s president Otto Perez Molina points out that prohibition has been an utter failure:
“The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated.”
Molina’s suggestion is that the regulation of alcohol and cigarettes may work as a model.
“To suggest liberalization – allowing consumption, production and trafficking of drugs without any restriction whatsoever – would be, in my opinion, profoundly irresponsible. Even more, it is an absurd proposition. If we accept regulations for alcoholic drinks and tobacco consumption and production, why should we allow drugs to be consumed and produced without any restrictions?”
“Our proposal as the Guatemalan government is to abandon any ideological consideration regarding drug policy and to foster a global intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach to drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that drug consumption and production should be legalized, but within certain limits and conditions.”
In an election year, Obama is not likely to embrace these ideas, but at least the rest of the world is talking about it.
Since the first American prohibitions against marijuana in the early 1900′s, prohibition has been a losing war. It failed so badly against alcohol that it ended up being repealed just a little over a decade after it started. It is a shame that the rest of the prohibitions on drugs didn’t go the same way.
Since the 1970s, the United States has endured one of Richard Nixon’s most expensive legacies. It was Nixon that kicked off the drug wars. Hundreds of billions of dollars, probably into the trillions, has been spent fighting and incarcerating the use, transportation and sale of illegal drugs. The cost to taxpayers and society has exceeded the cost of a reasonable policy modeled after alcohol and cigarette regulations or even medical care for the addicted.
Another alternative is to take the Portuguese way. Portugal has seen its drug use plummet to levels below most of the rest of the industrialized world. The Portuguese haven’t legalized drugs but they have decriminalized them to the point that it is seen more as a medical problem than criminal behavior.
The Dutch take a more permissive view, a view that is gaining support in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. Yet, contrary to many impressions, not even the Dutch have taken the position that Molina argues of treating illegal drugs like alcohol and cigarettes.
That a president of a country is staking this position brings hope. In a free society, people should be able to do what they want as long as they don’t hurt other people. If they do put other people at risk, there is every reason to bring the law to bear on them.
Molina is not alone in questioning the status quo. Other Latin American leaders are moving in that direction. They have seen that engaging in a war on drugs only creates organized crime that profits immensely from restrictive laws. In turn, violence rises, governments crack down, taxes go up, prisons fill up and lives are destroyed. It makes a lot more sense to put a drug user in rehab or just let them get stoned and stare at the TV until it wears off.
The war on drugs has not been one of the prouder moments of modern civilization. Thankfully, the Dutch, Portuguese and now Guatemalan President Molina realize what an abysmal failure it has become.
Hopefully, Obama will listen enough to instruct Attorney General Eric Holder to lay off his assaults on medical marijuana facilities.