Latin American leaders, Obama to discuss ending the war on drugs

The upcoming Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, which will be attended by many latinamerican heads of state as well as Barack Obama, is set to be an historic debate over the legalization of drugs and the end of the war on drugs. Jamie Doward writes in the Guardian:

He insists, however, that prohibition has failed and an alternative system must be found. "Our proposal as the Guatemalan government is to abandon any ideological consideration regarding drug policy (whether prohibition or liberalisation) and to foster a global intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach to drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that drug consumption and production should be legalised, but within certain limits and conditions."

The decision by Pérez Molina to speak out is seen as highly significant and not without political risk. Polls suggest the vast majority of Guatemalans oppose decriminalisation, but Pérez Molina's comments are seen by many as helping to usher in a new era of debate. They will be studied closely by foreign policy experts who detect that Latin American leaders are shifting their stance on prohibition following decades of drugs wars that have left hundreds of thousands dead.

Mexico's president, Felipe Calderón, has called for a national debate on the issue. Last year Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia's president, told the Observer that if legalising drugs curtailed the power of organised criminal gangs who had thrived during prohibition, "and the world thinks that's the solution, I will welcome it".

'War on drugs' has failed, say Latin American leaders



  1. Shouldn’t that be, Latin American leaders meet to discuss drug war, and Barack Obama attends to mouth empty platitudes about “risk reduction” and “treatment” while remaining “tough on crime”?

    This is an election year. The idea that Obama would seriously consider ANY political position that would damage his election chances is laughably naive.

    1. The fact that he’ll mouth platitudes doesn’t mean he won’t be able to engage in real negotiations behind the scenes. For example, he could promise to introduce bits of “revolutionary” legislation after re-election. He could help them establish a political frame where Latin American states go ahead breaking taboos without immediate US retaliation, in order to make a possible change of policy next year look “basically inevitable”. He could ask, in exchange, for things like increased subsidies for returning migrants, increased border checks, or whatever else will appeal right-wing wackos in the short term.

      This, of course, if he *really* wanted to change this idiotic “WoD” policy.

      1. Your hopes are delusional.  If Obama was even contemplating anything other than the pointless continuation of the same horribly failed policies, he would have prevented the pointless crackdown of medical marijuana.  
        Medical marijuana involves a bunch of Americans, not conspiring with criminals, growing the stuff locally, and selling a drug that rates below alcohol in terms of harm.  If you crack down on them, it basically means that you are not even pretending to look at actual harm and are just on a (pointless) crusade.

        Obama is on a pointless crusade.

        No amount of “hope” is going to convince me that Obama is ordering the pointless crackdown on hippies growing weed in states where it is legal, while at the same time secretly working with Latin American leaders to end the war on drugs.

        He is just another in a long line of asshole president who did drugs in their youth, never got caught, and then managed to ignore the blazing hypocrisy of ruining the lives of countless fellow Americans for crimes he himself is guilty off.  

        Meet the old boss, same as the new boss. 

        1. I agree with your sentiment but I think you’re missing the point – he can’t do anything progressive in this area right now because it will damage him in the upcoming election. Not that I think he faces a real challenge, but something like legalizing marijuana – or simply not appearing tough on drugs in any way – will trigger massive attacks from the right.

          So the point is that we can’t know if he wants to actually end the war on drugs, legalize marijuana, or anything like this. But if he does intend to attempt any of these kinds of things, he can start talking to people behind the scenes, like Latin American leaders. He can make elaborate arrangements behind the scenes that can start to affect things visibly only after he’s re-elected.

          I share your lack of enthusiasm about Obama’s intention or ability to do any of these things, but the point is we really can give him the benefit of the doubt at this point.

          1. The medical marijuana raids are more than campaign rhetoric.  Romney doesn’t wan’t to be pulled into talking about medical marijuana anymore than he wants to be pulled into talking about contraception.  It is an issue where the more you talk, the more you sound like an asshole.  Romney isn’t going to stand up and shake his finger at Obama because he hasn’t been crushing enough hippy skulls.  He is going to avoid the topic entirely, as will Obama.

            There was no political advantage to busting on the medical marijuana facilities in states where it is legal.  It actually has exactly the opposite effect in that it badly demoralizes Obama’s base.  A demoralized base says “ahh fuck it, they are all the same, I’m not voting”, and they sure as hell don’t pound ground and knock on doors for your campaign.  

            Obama isn’t going to convince anyone to vote for him over a medical marijuana raid, but he sure as shit is going to demoralize his base and lose voters in his own camp who opt to simply not vote.  For that reason, I don’t think that this is some clever scheme on Obama’s part to drum up votes so that in his second term he will usher in an era of sane policy.  I think he is just a hypocritical asshole who can happily smoke pot and then order government agents to crack the skulls of people who have done the same thing he has done without remorse or even recognizing that it is wrong.  He is better than Romney for sure, but that isn’t saying much.

            Thankfully, I live in lovely Massachusetts.  Due to the electoral college system my vote literally does not count.  If Obama losses Massachusetts, he also lost 48 other states.  I’ll be voting for one of the pot smoking third parties with a clear conscience.

          2. no we can’t. barack obama isn’t the president of the local pta, he’s the president of the united states. stop making excuses and portraying him as helpless – accountability still matters to some of us. last week i watched oaksterdam university in oakland get raided by the feds and i won’t give obama anything but the scorn he rightly deserves.

        2.  you might want to say this……..”and selling a drug that rates below coffee in terms of harm.  substitute coffee for alcohol and you have a more accurate statement………..marijuana is even below coffee 

        3. Oh, I don’t harbour any hope, I said “if he really wanted to” — chances are that he doesn’t.

  2. I agree w/Patrick. Just like Romney is required to have absurd policy stances to cater to his looney tunes base, Obama is also required to stay as far to right as is possible on all matter of “national security.” The paranoids come out and scare everyone into voting GOP if he doesn’t. 

    Still, that said, this “war” has wreaked havoc everywhere it’s landed. It’s caused death, destruction, corruption, pain, suffering and damage–like the war that it is. It has been the way the the US has intervened in the progress of Latin America. Instead of putting money into treatment centers, prevention and other sane ways to curb demand, it’s gone for enriching the arms dealers and corrupt politicians, and only growing the problem. Our tax dollars at work on stupidity.  Another /brilliant/ GOP idea.  

    Ojalá un día fuera posible la paz.

    1. We’ve been hoping that for the past 45 years, so I’m not getting too excited — especially given the Obama administration’s cruel and pointless crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries.

      1. Only two candidates have laid out sensible drug policies for the US and for ending the wasteful “war on drugs” that has fed into the police state for decades… Ron Paul and Gary Johnson. Until people give up supporting their failed parties and vote for the person instead, expect more blather from whoever comes after Obama (or if he stays, expect more of the same).

        1.  I don’t know anything about Johnson, but Paul is totally unthinkable as a candidate.  Sure, he occasionally says sensible things about drugs and foreign policy.  But those moments of lucidity are a light sprinkling of sugar on top of his frothy porridge of Objectivism, gold-buggery, Austrian economics, thinly veiled racism, and general Randroid nonsense.  He is a loon, and his policies would be a disaster.

    2. The cynic in me is afraid a closer analogy would be turning a corner.  Again.  For the fourth time, in fact.  For the fourth time, again.

  3. I truly believe that this war will never end.  You can say that it causes suffering and countless deaths, but it is still economically profitable to maintain.  The court system is kept busy, the jails are kept full, the pharmaceutical companies are still hawking oxycontin and marinol, the corruption in drug producing companies keeps pockets full.

    My last dwindling wisps of hope that the government was trying to do whats best for the United States wafted away like the Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction”.  If only the “treatment” lobby had the power that the “police state” lobby has…

  4. You forgot the “wishful thinking” tag.

    The “small government, except in personal matters”  supposed conservatives aren’t going to give up the notion that it’s perfectly okay for the government to legislate what is an acceptable state of consciousness anytime soon.

    1.  No they likely won’t. But the “small government, especially in personal matters” libertarians will. How’s that whole Hope and Change thing working out?

  5. I wonder how Obama will find a diplomatic way to say “We think it’s so cute when you guys pretend that we don’t view your governments as operational appendages of USSOUTHCOM”…

    It’ll be tricky.

  6. I often wonder what all of these other countries are going to do when China rules the world and the U.S. isn’t the 800 lb. gorilla whose bidding everyone has to do anymore. I expect many of them will politely tell their former ‘senior partner’ to get bent and go about their lives as they will, for better and worse. Interesting times ahead!

    1. The US rules the world because the developed world will suck up to anyone whom they think can prevent China from ruling the world.

      1. Right. Until China owns their debt too. Then we can watch them dance to their master’s tune.

  7. The drug problem is a crime problem.

    Prohibition introduces artificial scarcity and inflates  the value of otherwise cheaply produced and widely available commodities, mostly plant extracts.

    Result, crime.

    Ask who needs tens of billions in un-taxed, untraceable dollars floating around the worlds economies each year?

    Ask who needs to sell standing-army loads of weapons to otherwise saturated domestic and neighbouring markets?

    Who benefits from one of the most expensive law enforcement regimes in the world, possible largely through artificially maintained crime levels?

    Who benefits from drugs which cost an arm and a leg and keep poor, working class and yuppie alike scrabbling to maintain lifestyles and habits?

    Who benefits from the 2.3 million unpaid workforce which in other centuries were called slaves and in this one are called inmates on work duty?

    Who benefits from restricting the conscious states (paradigms) which their citizens can dream?

     Possession with intent to reply.

    1. The Illuminati? Reptillians? The Dalai Lama? The International Conspiracy of Polish Janitors? Ronald Reagan’s Ghost? Bill Clinton’s Ghost from the FUTURE? or could it be the personified Spirit of Banality itself that wreaks so much evil on the world? Indeed, who could be more opposed to lovely liberating drugs than BANALITY.

      1.  I forget the original quote, and I generally find quotes stupid, but here goes.  “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence.”

  8. I’ve never used and probably never will use marijuana.  However, if I can accept that alcohol and cigarettes are perfectly legal, I can’t see how marijuana is not. It certainly isn’t worse than either of those, and if it’s treated with the same societal boundaries and taxation, it could become an accepted, regulated part of the economy rather than a dangerous component of the black market.

    Frankly, I don’t want to see Canada turned into a Mexico with drug gangs corrupting the police and spreading violence among the population, and there are signs this is slowly happening even now. Filling jails up with minor marijuana offenders is bankrupting the U.S. at a time when cost savings are foremost on everyone’s mind. That’s good money that could be used to improve education and medical care instead of revolving door prisons that help no one.

    Americans want marijuana and they’re obviously willing to pay obscenely for it, even at the expense of ruining all the countries around them to say the least of the price their society pays in futility by waging the “war” against the drug. It’s time for some common sense and a return to peaceful hometowns in the Americas. We found the courage to end the failed Prohibition in the 1930s, and we need to find the courage to end this prohibition as well before violence and corruption get any worse.

      1. MDMA, and coke now, none of the young people i know do meth (though some have)

        oddly these street drugs don’t seem to be half as addictive as prescription opiates, Oxy Cotin is a hellva a drug. 

        But marijuana is the the favorite among everyone i know, even the folks who’ve done everything, because it makes you feel better even after you come down.  

        I bet most of big money is being made on MDMA and party drugs mixed with it and pressed into tablets. The pills are expensive, and the consumer doesn’t know anything about what’s actually in them. 

  9. This is a subject for which common sense, or any sense at all, has no place. It’s a lot like religion.

  10. Unfortunately, I suspect the drug war is too important to too many people. that it does little to help the people of the Americas is of course beside the point. The war must continue!

  11. Those of you who think that some vast right-wing conspiracy is making our beloved Commander-In-Chief continue the drug war are hopelessly naive.  Both Team Red and Team Blue are completely down with the war on drugs.

      1. I can promise you’ll find individuals on both sides of the fence that disagree with the war on drugs. That doesn’t change the over all message of the parties and their supporters.

        1.  You’re correct but these two examples are particularly significant–they are not just two random individuals.  Pat Robertson is the leading figure on the religious right.  That the only folks at CPAC who talked about drug policy were those opposed to prohibition is important.

        2. This is the problem, thinking there are actually only TWO SIDES to the fence… There is no fence, and there is one party making all the decisions that keep them fat and happy, while vampirically draining America of all blood.

    1. That’s so cute that you think the Democrats aren’t right-wing. You have the party that’s far to the right and then you have Republicans. Who are even farther to the right.

    1. A few Latin America countries, like Mexico and Colombia, have recently de-criminalized personal possession of small amounts of drugs, subject to a fine as opposed to arrest, the rationale being that there’s more pressing priorities for the cops to attend to, than a guy or a girl with a joint in the park.  Or a bunch of kids with their hits of ecstasy at a rave, for that matter.

      Thing is, the US seemed to take a few solid steps of its’ own with the legalization of medical ganja in some states, but then suddenly a big, strange slide backwards started happening, such as raids and the IRS throwing the book at ganja dispensers, under a president who said he wouldn’t do this.

      So cynicism may be justifiable in this 2012.

  12. What a few Latin American countries decide to do about the war on drugs might matter somewhat within the border of  those countries, but in the big picture it’ll be meaningless.  The United States must figure things out or there’ll still be this enormous market for illegal narcotics just sitting there waiting to be serviced by those who can stomach the risk, and for every player the state removes, there are a dozen waiting to take their place.

    Also, the US government is in the habit of dictating policy to the rest of the Americas, not the other way around.

    1. Indeed. The article fails to point out that this isn’t even the first time. Almost every time there’s a western-hemisphere summit, the presidents of Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, and/or Bolivia ask for an end to Prohibition II in the US. I don’t see any reason to think that the result will be different this time. Barry McCaffrey will be all over TV and in the newspapers of record calling it “defeatist” and insist that the War on Drugs can still be won, and that’ll settle the issue for another couple of years.

      I despair of this issue getting fixed in my lifetime. The only thing that would change it would be if women, and white men, and rich people, start being randomly searched for drugs as often as black men are; then it’ll be solved in a hurry.

  13. Sure, when the international community wants to end drug prohibition, then Obama is ready to talk about it. But when 0.01% of Americans sign an online petition, they just get brushed aside. typical

      1. Yeah, we ask that commenters not use URL shorteners unless they’re the proprietary ones like YT that make it clear where they lead.

  14. I think that the article gets to the heart of why we’re unlikely to see anything that resembles legalization: even if many agree that the war on drugs has failed and that the overall state of blanket prohibition isn’t a good thing, there’s zero agreement on the mechanisms of a post-prohibition world, and sufficiently entrenched divergent interests to make the discussion nearly unthinkable.

    1. The main problem is to get some powerful economic interest on board, to balance out the ones opposed to legalization (security, tobacco and alcohol industries, mostly, but also religious groups who make money from rehab camps). 

      I don’t understand why Obama couldn’t just throw Philip Morris a bone (after decades of bashing, btw) by legislating that only established tobacco-makers will be allowed initial access to the market (for safety reasons, of course); or get Big Pharma on board by imposing some Byzantine production rules that only them can fully satisfy. This would result in safe, “good-enough” products on the market, making money for the “right” people and giving them a good competitive advantage for the future; they would produce a drastic fall of demand for illegal goods, basically squeezing the illegal economy in the hardcore-drugs bracket, which is relatively easier to police. At this point you wouldn’t even need to get rid of too many goons, just re-calibrate them to go after real criminals. Wins all around.But what do I know, I’m not a hyper-smart Washington insider after all, they surely know what’s best for our health… like their Wall Street pals know what’s best for the economy.

      1. I don’t think any of the big tobacco companies are opposed to legalisation of marijuana. They’d have big scale factories up faster than any competitor.

        1. But they’d have competitors, which they currently don’t, so there is no incentive for them to actively support a change. By giving them a similar monopolistic position, you’d make their profit basically guaranteed, hence motivating them to spend some influence and resources to shape public opinion. 

          1. They’d have competitors in an and industry they currently have no stock in whatsoever, so there is very good reason they’d support a change. 

            Their place in the Tobacco market wouldn’t change, except that their economies of scale would become even greater (shipping, warehousing, etc).

      2. Insanity. Why in the screaming hell should government have any say about it? Are you the owner of your life? Are you capable of making rational decisions? Decisions that may benefit you, or harm you? Are you willing to suffer the consequences and reap the benefits of your own decision? Grow up!

        1. The very principle behind the existence of laws, police or the justice system is that citizens aren’t able to make the right decisions all the time, even where their own safety is concerned.

          This is why, for example, there is a law that forces people to take driving lessons and obtain a driving license before they can drive a car on public road. The legislator observed that people weren’t wise enough to do these things on their own.

          Whether the legislator is right or wrong is another matter, but these are the principles on which the system works : sometimes citizens need to be protected from themselves.

          1. I agree with what you’re saying to a point. Laws are there to protect us from bad decisions. However do we really need laws to protect ourselves from our own personal bad decisions or just bad decisions that harm other people.

            This is where drug use laws fail on my set of morals. Sure you can argue that drug use leads to other people suffering, but most of the causes of this suffering are no different to the suffering of families married to alcoholics, or gambling addicts; or there are laws that already cover the actual crimes committed i.e. addicts that steal to cover the cost of their habbits. 

            The drug use laws themselves have no place in any just society as far as I’m concerned.

  15. I want to imagine at this meeting Calderón and Obama are sitting around smoking a joint and laughing their asses off.

  16. Cory,

    I’d love to see the block quote contextualized a bit better. From how you set it up, the “he” in the first paragraph is President Obama.

  17. Here let me fix this for you:
    The “small government, except in personal matters”  supposed conservatives and the “progressive social freedom loving” liberals aren’t going to give up the notion that it’s perfectly okay for the government to legislate what is an acceptable state of consciousness anytime soon.

  18. The future depends on whether or not enough of us are willing to take a long look at the tragic results of prohibition. If we continue to skirt the primary issue while refusing to address the root problem then we can expect no other result than a worsening of the current dire situation. – Good intentions, wishful thinking and pseudoscience are no match for the immutable realities of human nature.

    * Many important advancements in human society (even the reasonable requirement that gynecologists wash their hands before examining a patient) have been vehemently resisted by unconscionable, selfish individuals who were willing to use outright mendacity, specious logic and fear mongering to sacrifice the well-being of the rest of us.

    Never have so many been endangered and impoverished by so few so quickly!

    * The urge to save humanity is almost always a false-face for the urge to rule it. – H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) American editor, essayist and philologist.

    * 2010 Reported Corporate Revenues:

        Johnson & Johnson = $61.90 billion

        Pfizer= $50.01 billion

        GlaxoSmithKline = $45.83 billion

        Novartis = $44.27

        Sanofi-Aventis = $41.99 billion

        AstraZeneca = $32.81 billion

        Merck & Co. = $27.43 billion

        Eli Lilly = $21.84 billion

        Anheuser-Busch InBev (2007) = $16.70 billion

        MillerCoors = $3.03 billion

        Pabst = $0.50 billion

    * As with torture, prohibition is a grievous crime against humanity. If you support it, or even simply tolerate it by looking the other way while others commit it, you are an accessory to a very serious moral transgression against humanity.

    * The United States re-legalized certain drug use in 1933. The drug was alcohol, and the 21st amendment re-legalized its production, distribution and sale. Both alcohol consumption and violent crime dropped immediately as a result, and very soon after, the American economy climbed out of that same prohibition engendered abyss into which it had foolishly fallen.  

    “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.” 

    – Winston Churchill

  19. When I was locked up, we used to joke that the Feds weren’t going to let out any drug dealers until they needed the room for the political prisoners.

  20. Y’all get that this isn’t just about legalizing MJ, this is about cocaine, and  in a big way.  Want a little perspective on why the old people don’t want to legalize reefer?  Look at your personal views on cocaine, opiates, and synthetic hallucinogens.  Ask yourself:  do you really want to live in a world where there is easy legal access to all of those things as well?  My personal views on this are very libertarian.  I’m mostly just trying to help some of you form better arguments by giving you some things to think about. 

    1. Look at your personal views on cocaine, opiates, and synthetic hallucinogens. Ask yourself: do you really want to live in a world where there is easy legal access to all of those things as well?

      Funnily enough, yes.

      1. But hopefully you get my point about trying to put yourself in the position of somebody that doesn’t support legalizing everything.  If you were in that position, what would convince you to change your mind?  Try and convince me.  Keep in mind, I’ve seen people hunched over in the corner of a shabby trailer shooting cocaine, other people who can’t function in society 25 years after their last dose, lives destroyed by opiates, and people on the border of insanity from decades of smoking up.

        So I’m not saying these things shouldn’t all be legal, but the “it is just a harmless plant” arguments are weak.  A strong argument should comprehend the range of problems associated with (all) drug use, and carefully weigh the personal and social harm the current policy causes with the potential benefit of changes to the policy.   From what I have seen, I can’t make a compelling argument rooted in anything other than how I interpret the Constitution.

        1. It seems like Latin America has an argument rooted in military tactics. They have to deal with organizations competing with governments for control of their countries, and those organizations get their money from illicit drug trade. Making the drug trade licit would knock out a major revenue stream. It isn’t about the addicts, they’re a separate issue (and besides I’m not convinced that changing who supplies the drugs will have a big impact on drug addiction), it’s about ending a bloody war. amirite?

  21. A lot of otherwise unemployable people around the world depend on jobs that exist because of the international illegal drug trade. President Obama knows this, the CIA knows this…other countries know this….I don’t see much being done here other than a few pats on the back and some tough talk. Then it will be business as usual.

    The global market just ain’t ready for millions who used to have an income……to just be suddenly dependent on their governments to bail ’em all out or solve their financial woes. Not in this economic climate.

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