When Barack Obama sits down with Latin American leaders in Cartagena to discuss the "war on drugs" he won't like what they've got to say. They're ready to declare the war on drugs a failure - a failure in the past, a failure now and an inevitable failure in the future.
The president of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, is leading the drive to abandon outright prohibition. As the former head of Guatemalan military intelligence, Perez Molina has first hand experience in the losing war against his country's drug cartels, a war that has made Guatemala the most violence-plagued country in Central America. Mexico doesn't even come close.
Pérez Molina concedes that moving beyond prohibition is problematic. "To suggest liberalisation – allowing consumption, production and trafficking of drugs without any restriction whatsoever – would be, in my opinion, profoundly irresponsible. Even more, it is an absurd proposition. If we accept regulations for alcoholic drinks and tobacco consumption and production, why should we allow drugs to be consumed and produced without any restrictions?"
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."
Will this summit turn drug policy in the Americas on its head? Not very likely. Obama, facing an election in November, wouldn't dare agree. At the same time rejecting the ideological underpinnings of the war on drugs is an important step on the long road to the evolution of a viable drug policy.
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