Pubdate: Wed, 14 Nov 2012
Source: Stabroek News (Guyana)
Copyright: 2012 Stabroek News
Author: Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch
Note: Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch is the director of the Global Drug 
Policy Program at the Open Society Foundation.


LONDON - In the coming days and weeks, critics will try to minimize 
what voters in the US states of Colorado and Washington accomplished 
by backing referenda permitting marijuana legalization and 
regulation. They will likely produce puns and editorial gags about a 
legislative coup for "hippies" hosting patchouli-scented victory 
celebrations. They will be tempted to reduce the story to witticisms 
about hedonism and decadence in America's free-thinking mountain 
states. But such reactions will be wrong.

In fact, America's disastrous preoccupation with marijuana 
prohibition is more than a story of a relatively harmless substance 
being sent into legislative exile. Rather, it is part of the larger 
story of the country's misguided "war on drugs," which has resulted 
in the incarceration of more than two million people at any given 
time. It is a story of lawmakers branding young people with criminal 
records for actions that they may well have taken in their own 
youth  but without getting caught.

Legalizing and regulating marijuana will not only help to protect 
consumers from such life-altering penalties; it will also reduce the 
incentives for violence associated with black markets that are common 
in US cities and narcotics-producing countries. Profits from 
marijuana consumption will now benefit legitimate economies, rather 
than fuel violence in producer or transit countries and lead to the 
exploitation of vulnerable people. And those who struggle to control 
their use can seek treatment without fear of arrest or the stigma of 
dependence on an illegal substance.

In backing initiatives that would regulate the sale and use of 
marijuana, the voters of Colorado and Washington did not vote 
recklessly. On the contrary, they did something contemplative, even courageous.

Prohibition is embedded so deeply in the American psyche  and that of 
other countries troubled by illicit drug use and the narcotics trade 
that drug-policy reform is a non-starter in many environments. After 
all, prohibition is not just governed by states and municipalities; 
it is enshrined in US federal, and even international, law. How 
Colorado and Washington balance their local responsibilities with 
such laws will be hotly debated in the coming months.

Indeed, the approval of these referenda will drive drug-policy 
debates worldwide. Governments in three Latin American 
countries  Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala  have called on the United 
Nations to open a debate on the drug-control treaties. And the 
Organisation of American States has undertaken a scenario-planning 
process to consider the relative costs and benefits of all policy approaches.

Moreover, proposals to decriminalize or regulate certain drugs are 
routinely being presented around the world. Marijuana regulation is 
already under consideration in Uruguay, while the various forms of 
decriminalisation that have been introduced in Europe have been 
resounding successes.

For example, since Portugal abolished all criminal penalties for drug 
use in 2001, drug use has not exploded, as some predicted, and has 
even declined among some groups. Moreover, HIV/AIDS among intravenous 
drug users plunged from 52% of all new cases in 2000 to 16% in 2009.

Given that the US is the biggest backer of the international "War on 
Drugs," Colorado and Washington voters' decision is particularly 
bold. Regulating marijuana  and the initiatives that could soon 
follow  has the potential to reduce violence at home and abroad, 
spare young people from undeserved criminal records, and reduce 
stigma among vulnerable people. These states' citizens should be proud.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom