Left Outside

Drug Wars: Latin America Strikes Back

Hugo, I am your fatherWell not quite, Obama isn’t going to tell Chavez that he’s his father or anything.

But there does seem to a movement underway to sever the heavy hand of US involvement in Latin American Drug policies. This can only lead to good things.

Last week Guido commented that:

If things had gone slightly differently for David Cameron instead of being on the verge of becoming PM, he could be yet another former public school boy who ended up squandering his privileges and doing jail time for possession of cannabis and cocaine. The current President of America could just be another black ex-con from a broken home.

He was making a very good point. The great and the good have done drugs (they probably enjoyed it too, although I couldn’t possible comment) but there has long been a fundamental hypocrisy with the way drugs are treated. They are illegal because of prejudice, not fact, and their illegality hurts those who are least responsible for this state of affairs.

Challenging the Orthodoxy

A Very British Dude put it very well when he said: “Every argument in favour of retaining drug prohibition can be shot down by anyone prepared to apply logic.”And I think that’s a coherent standpoint. Unfortunately just because you can shoot down an argument with logic it doesn’t mean it will translate into policy.

For example, Portugal has had a very successful experiment in decriminalising drugs.  Crime has not worsened, there hasn’t been an explosion of use, the world has not ended. The problem is that because producing drugs is still illegal the problems in countries producing those drugs have not been lessened by Portugal’s actions.

Ultimately, it is in drug producing countries, not drug consuming, where a sensible drugs policy really is important. This is why the current drug regime is so unfair, those with the most to lose have always seen the least powerful to affect change.The problems with drugs’ illegality in Portugal pales into insignificance when compared with those in Bolivia, Mexico or Columbia.

It’s easy to become pretty pessimistic about the prospects of a sensible drugs policy, given the pro-prohibition lobby in the US. Witness O’Reilly in full swing on Fox.

Going back a century, the opposition was little less insane. Harvey Wiley, the first commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, led an ardent campaign against Coca Cola because it contained Cocaine in the early 1900s. To prove its deadliness he flooded a rabbit’s lungs with Coca Cola syrup and watched it die. He had proof, but only proof he was a moron, the case was promptly thrown out. Despite the intellectual capacity of a goldfish, this man has left his mark on drug policy. Cocaine is still public enemy number one.

The US’s dominance in its hemisphere has led to some very perverse policies. Coca was made planta non gratis despite a history in the continent spanning back 5,000 years. Coca has been vilified as a cause of poverty, despite a nutrional content which has saved countless lives of poor Peruvian farmers and miners. Drug wars have erupted as rival gangs fought over one of the most profitable industries in the world. And ultimately millions have died as a result.

Despite the mountain of evidence that existed against criminalising it in the first place and against mounting evidence that this is still a really bad idea, US policy looks unlikely to change.

From grand gestures to baby steps forward

Evo eats coca at the UN In the past, grand gestures claiming all this will change have not been uncommon. It was hard to miss Evo Morales chewing coca at the UN to emphasise the fact that “coca is not cocaine.”

Likewise, former Latin American leaders are deriding the modern prohibitionist policy as a failure.

It is difficult to remain optimistic that all this may change. But, for change  this rhetoric is being met with actions.

Drug policy reform is spreading across the Continent. In Mexico, simple possession of marijuana, heroine, LSD, and cocaine has been decriminalised.

And on the same day Guido made his plea (I never knew he was that influential) Argentina decriminalised personal use of Marijuana:

On August 25, Argentina’s Supreme Court struck down a dirty war-era law criminalizing possession of even the smallest quantities of marijuana. In the decision, the Supreme Court ruled that possession of small quantities of marijuana for personal use is protected by Article 19 of Argentina’s Constitution, which states: “private actions that in no way offend public order or morality, nor are detrimental to a third party, are reserved for God and are beyond the authority of legislators.”

Columbia is following suit with its Supreme Court ruling “that possession of illegal drugs for personal use is not a criminal offense… Caracol Radio said Wednesday.”

Columbia and Mexico are two countries that have been most damaged by the insistence of the US that drugs remain illegal, and the insistence of US citizens that they be provided regardless. These steps provide a real start to improving their situation.

Many of these recent decisions have been taken by Supreme Courts, but across Latin America there is a large and growing movement that is aware their current policy is the cause and not solution to so many of their problems.

At last, it appears that Latin America won’t have to be the evidence that prohibition doesn’t work for much longer. Policy is taking a few step closer to logic.

Hugo, I am your fatherWell not quite, Obama isn’t going to tell Chavez that he’s his father or anything.

But there does seem to a movement underway to sever the heavy hand of US involvement in Latin American Drug policies. This can only lead to good things.

Last week Guido commented that:

If things had gone slightly differently for David Cameron instead of being on the verge of becoming PM, he could be yet another former public school boy who ended up squandering his privileges and doing jail time for possession of cannabis and cocaine. The current President of America could just be another black ex-con from a broken home.

He was making a very good point. The great and the good have done drugs (they probably inhaled too) but there has long been a fundamental hypocrisy with the way drugs are treated. They are illegal because of prejudice, not fact, and their illegality hurts those who are least responsible for this state of affairs.

A Very British Dude put it very well when he said: “Every argument in favour of retaining drug prohibition can be shot down by anyone prepared to apply logic.”And I think that’s a coherent standpoint. Unfortunately just because you can shoot down an argument with logic it doesn’t mean it will translate into policy.

For example, Portugal has had a very successful experiment in decriminalising drugs.  Ultimately it is in drug producing countries, not drug consuming, where a sensible drugs policy really is important. This is why the current drug regime is so unfair, those with the most to lose have always seen the least powerful to affect change.

Portugal is an independent European nation and can experiment with policy accordingly. It has always been a lot harder if you are Bolivia and you have to wrestle with the US.

The problems with drugs’ illegality in Portugal pales into insignificance when compared with those in Bolivia, Mexico or Columbia. It’s easy to become pretty pessimistic about the prospects of a sensible drugs policy, given the pro-prohibition lobby in the US.

Many in the US have campaigned against drugs for over a century. Harvey Wiley, the first commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, led an ardent campaign against Coca Cola because it contained Cocaine in the early 1900s. To prove its deadliness he flooded a rabbit’s lungs with Coca Cola syrup and watched it die. He had proof, but only proof he was a moron, the case was promptly thrown out. Despite the intellectual capacity of a goldfish, this man has left his mark on drug policy.

Despite the mountain of evidence that existed against criminalising it in the first place and against mounting evidence that this is still a really bad idea, US policy looks unlikely to change.

The US’s dominance in its hemisphere has led to some very perverse policies. Coca was made planta non gratis despite a history in the continent spanning back 5,000 years. Coca has been vilified as a cause of poverty, despite a nutrional content which has saved countless lives of poor Peruvian farmers and miners. Drug wars have erupted as rival gangs fought over one of the most profitable industries in the world. And ultimately millions have died as a result.

Evo eats coca at the UN In the past, grand gestures claiming all this will change have not been uncommon. It was hard to miss Evo Morales chewing coca at the UN to emphasise the fact that “coca is not cocaine.”

Likewise, former Latin American leaders are deriding the modern prohibitionist policy as a failure. Ex-presidents César Gaviria of Colombia, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Fernando Enrique Cardoso of Brazil all introduced restrictive drug regimes when in power – but are now demanding a new approach. “Latin America’s active participation in the global debate would mark its transition from a problem-region to a pioneering-region in the implementation of innovative solutions for the drug problem.”

But the last 50 years have been marked by a series of poor policies, which have indirectly or directly led to great suffering. But, what is especially exciting at the moment is that these words are finally being met with actions.

Decriminalisation is spreading across the Continent. In Mexico simple possession of marijuana, heroine, LSD, and cocaine has been decriminalised.

And on the same day Guido made his plea (I never knew he was that influential) Argentina decriminalised personal use of Marijuana:

On August 25, Argentina’s Supreme Court struck down a dirty war-era law criminalizing possession of even the smallest quantities of marijuana. In the decision, the Supreme Court ruled that possession of small quantities of marijuana for personal use is protected by Article 19 of Argentina’s Constitution, which states: “private actions that in no way offend public order or morality, nor are detrimental to a third party, are reserved for God and are beyond the authority of legislators.”

Columbia is following suit with its Supreme Court ruling “that possession of illegal drugs for personal use is not a criminal offense, [it was]citing a 1994 decision by the country’s Constitutional Court, Caracol Radio said Wednesday.”

Many of these decisions have been taken by Supreme Courts, but across Latin America there has always been a contigent that is aware their current policy is the cause and not solution to so many of their problems.

After decades of Dirty Wars and Drug Running, Latin America has stood up. Latin America is in good company too, as far as I’m aware The Economist still stands behind the legalisation of drugs, even as The Independent shirks away.

Of course some people still think that taking drugs is bad Mmkay? But, we don’t need to listen to these twats of irrationality. We need to listen to those who are affected most, the people of Latin America; and they have spoken.

It looks like Latin America won’t have to continue being the evidence that prohibition doesn’t work for much longer. It looks like policy is taking a few step closer to logic.

Filed under: Politics

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