I’ve been frustrated for a while by the finger-pointing at our southern neighbors for bringing drug violence to our borders. The buck stops on this side of the border and more specifically in Washington, D.C. Finally, three former Latin American presidents (Cardozo of Brazil, Gaviria of Colombia, Zedillo of Mexico) have produced a report that places blame on insatiable drug demand (aka, the US), and advocates for a rethinking of drug policy. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal explains the failures of the status quo approach and the advantages of a new one, based on decriminalization:
Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalization of consumption simply haven’t worked. Violence and the organized crime associated with the narcotics trade remain critical problems in our countries. Latin America remains the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and cannabis, and is fast becoming a major supplier of opium and heroin. Today, we are further than ever from the goal of eradicating drugs.
In order to drastically reduce the harm caused by narcotics, the long-term solution is to reduce demand for drugs in the main consumer countries. To move in this direction, it is essential to differentiate among illicit substances according to the harm they inflict on people’s health, and the harm drugs cause to the social fabric.
In this spirit, we propose a paradigm shift in drug policies based on three guiding principles: Reduce the harm caused by drugs, decrease drug consumption through education, and aggressively combat organized crime. To translate this new paradigm into action we must start by changing the status of addicts from drug buyers in the illegal market to patients cared for by the public-health system.
The idea is to stop wasting resources on eradication efforts which do nothing to diminish supply (there is a lot of land in Latin America to cultivate), and on imprisonment, which doesn’t reduce demand and oftentimes produces harder addicts. The responsible alternative, which will work for Latin America, is to attack drug use in the US through prevention and education. People, especially kids, need to know the harms of drugs and they need to know that a joint is not just a joint. Getting high has moral and social consequences and fuels a dangerous and bloody industry.
The document put out by the Latin American Commission is an overdue and necessary proposal, and one that the US should take seriously if it is to really make inroads in the war on drugs. The US should also heed the mention at the end of the Wall Street editorial to by the way, not just stop demand, but stop supplying Latin America with easy arms.
We’ll see how Obama responds. Obama has declared publicly that the war on drugs is a failure, but whether he takes on the politically, morally, religiously sensitive issue of decriminalization in a time when Americans want the economy fixed first remains a big question mark.