Pubdate: Mon, 25 Apr 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company


At the urging of Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia, world leaders met at 
the United Nations in a special session last week to discuss saner 
ways to fight the drug trade. They did not get very far toward a 
shift in approach. Nonetheless, there was a consensus that investing 
in health care, addiction treatment and alternatives to incarceration 
would do more to end the drug trade than relying primarily on 
prohibition and criminalization.

"A war that has been fought for more than 40 years has not been won," 
President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia said in an interview. "When 
you do something for 40 years and it doesn't work, you need to change it."

Mr. Santos and the presidents of Mexico and Guatemala argue that the 
war on drugs, which has been largely directed under terms set by the 
United States, has had devastating effects on their countries, which 
are hubs of the cocaine, marijuana and heroin trade. "When two 
elephants fight, the grass always suffers the most," President Jimmy 
Morales of Guatemala said, referring to the drug cartels and American 
law enforcement agencies.

Since 2014, the three governments and like-minded allies have sought 
to lay the groundwork for changes to the current approach, which is 
grounded in three international drug accords adopted between the 
early 1960s and 1988. Those treaties, which required that signatories 
outlaw the trade and possession of controlled substances - including 
marijuana - were conceived at a time when international leaders saw 
law enforcement as the most effective way to curb drug production and 

Unfortunately, several countries with considerable diplomatic clout, 
including China and Russia, maintain that criminalization should 
remain the cornerstone of the fight against drugs.

The Obama administration supported the meeting, and has been 
relatively receptive to new ideas from neighboring countries. "We are 
seeing tremendous advances in our understanding of drug dependency 
and our ability to address substance use disorders as a public health 
- - rather than a strictly criminal justice - challenge," Secretary of 
State John Kerry said in a statement.

But the United States will need to play a much stronger role in 
shaping new policies. It is in the untenable position of violating 
the existing treaties - now that four states have legalized the sale 
of recreational marijuana - while arguing that they remain a viable framework.

Other countries are charting their own paths. The Canadian 
government, for instance, recently announced that it will introduce a 
bill next spring to decriminalize the sale of marijuana. Mexican 
leaders announced during the meeting that their country intends to 
legalize medical marijuana and loosen restrictions on the amount of 
drugs people can possess for personal use.

These new policies could render the existing drug treaties obsolete. 
Clearly, those accords need to be updated, heeding the experiences 
and lessons learned by the nations that have paid the highest price 
in the drug war.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom