UN: Latin America undermining drug war by decriminalizing drugs

The UN, in its annual report released today, said Latin America is undermining the drug war by decriminalizing small amounts of drugs.

Several Latin American countries have decriminalized the possession of marijuana and other drugs, but the United Nations has told them decriminalizing drugs undermines the drug war being fought in the region.

Latin America, being asked to stop decriminalizing drugs, received a harsh slap on the wrist by a United Nations body today for the burgeoning movement in various countries to decriminalize small amounts of drugs.

Drug reform activists have hailed the moves as a new approach that refocuses resources on big-time traffickers and views drug abuse as a health problem instead of a police problem. (How Mexico quietly decriminalized drug use.)

But the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), in its annual report released today, stated its concern over Latin America’s “growing movement to decriminalize the possession of controlled drugs, in particular cannabis.”

After decades of hewing to the US’s tough stance, some Latin American nations in recent months have moved toward more leniency for personal possession, particularly of marijuana. (How Latin America is breaking ranks with the US.)

Loosening up, one by one

Last year Mexico decriminalized possession of heroine, cocaine, and other drugs found in small amounts. Argentina followed with a Supreme Court ruling stating the unconstitutionality of the arrest of five youths carrying a small amount of marijuana. Brazil has also introduced legislation to replace jail sentences with educational measures.

The INCB report says: “The board is concerned that the movement, if not resolutely countered by the respective governments, will undermine national and international efforts to combat the abuse of and illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs. …The movement poses a threat to the coherence and effectiveness of the international drug control system and sends the wrong message to the general public.”

Whether the message will have an impact on the movement remains to be seen.

It could be used by those governments who still support the so-called “war on drugs” to bolster their positions.

“It will be used politically,” says Jorge Hernández Tinajero, the president of Cupihd, a group in Mexico that disseminates information about drug policies. “Those governments in the region pushing for a war against drugs will use it to bolster their argument.”

'Unwarranted intrusions'?

But the INCB was rebuked by leading drug policy-reform groups. The Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) said in a press release today that “the criticisms clearly overstep the INCB's mandate and constitute unwarranted intrusions into these countries' sovereign decision-making.”

And while the INCB also stated its regret that “influential personalities, including former high-level politicians in countries in South America, have publicly expressed their support for that movement,” Mr. Tinajero says the debate on reforming drug policies will continue to be robust.

His group just hosted a two-day panel, including former president of Colombia, César Gaviria Trujillo, on reforming the drug strategy in Mexico, which has been dogged by violent drug trafficking that has left over 17,000 dead since Mexican President Felipe Calderón took office and declared war on organized crime.

The former Colombian president is not the only high-level person to support drug reforms. The former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, also led a group that published a report urging President Obama to decriminalize marijuana use.

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