Pubdate: Sat, 18 May 2013
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2013 Los Angeles Times
Author: Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times


War on Drugs

Organization of American States Urges New Strategy

BOGOTA, Colombia - The Organization of American States (OAS) said 
Friday that countries should consider decriminalizing drug use, a 
shift backed by several current and former Latin American leaders but 
opposed by the United States.

Decriminalization could be one of many "transitional methods" in a 
public-health strategy that could include "drug courts, substantive 
reduction in sentences and rehabilitation," according to a report 
released by the OAS on the possible liberalization of drug policies.

The report, presented by OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza in 
Bogota, was commissioned during the April 2012 Summit of the Americas 
in Cartagena, in response to many leaders' complaints that 
U.S.-driven drug-prohibition policies of recent decades had failed to 
stem the illicit drug business.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he favored discussion of 
the decriminalization or legalization of drugs as a way to try to 
curb illicit drug use and trafficking.

Officials in countries known as drug-production and transit 
locations, such as Colombia and Guatemala, have said they were paying 
intolerable costs in violence and corruption, while consumer nations 
such as the U.S. and those in Europe were getting off relatively easy 
as the drugs keep flowing.

"All of us who hold public responsibilities owe it to the millions of 
women and men, young and old, mothers and fathers, girls and boys who 
today feel threatened, to find clear answers and effective public 
policies to confront this scourge," Insulza said.

The proposal by three former Latin American leaders - Fernando 
Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, and Cesar 
Gaviria of Colombia - that drugs be decriminalized or legalized has 
had a ripple effect among Latin American opinion leaders, said Bruce 
Bagley of the University of Miami, an expert on drug trafficking and policy.

Some specialists said the OAS report could have urged more specific 
changes to government policies.

Mark Kleiman, a public policy professor at UCLA, said policies should 
be retooled to focus on alleviating the violence and health damage 
caused by drug use, not on the flow of drugs.

"We're in a completely unsustainable situation," Kleiman said. "The 
strategy is not working."

John Walsh of the Washington (D.C.) Office on Latin America, a think 
tank that supports decriminalization of drugs, said the OAS report 
was valuable in part because "it recognizes that one-size-fits-all 
responses won't work for complex problems that affect countries differently."

Other findings of the report:

Drug abuse is the 15th direct cause of death in the OAS' northern 
countries, 40th in Andean countries and 52nd in Central America. That 
supports arguments that the United States and Canada bear more 
responsibility for illicit-drug demand.

Retail sales of illicit drugs account for 65 percent of drug profits, 
while farmers or producers get 1 percent.

Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom