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Who’s sorry now?

23 February 2009

I’ve always been of the mind that marijuana only became a “social problem” when it was discovered that the mostly African- and Mexican-American rural workers were being joined by urban middle-class in indulging in the habit.  That, and growing it isn’t exactly something that requires much in the way of corporate investment.

So, as over the years the use has grown in the wealthy countries to the north, those in the south have been expected to tolerate miltaristic responses to a foreign social problem,  wasting resources better spent on public health on police and prosecutors, and allowing an unregulated industry to spiral out of control, sometimes said to threaten the state.

Three former presidents,   Fernando Enrique Cardosa (Brazil),  César Gaviria (Colombia) and Dr. Ernesto Zedillo (now of Yale University, formerly President of Mexico), suggest at least an alternative approach for their own nations:

Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalization of consumption simply haven’t worked. Violence and the organized crime associated with the narcotics trade remain critical problems in our countries. Latin America remains the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and cannabis, and is fast becoming a major supplier of opium and heroin. Today, we are further than ever from the goal of eradicating drugs…

The revision of U.S.-inspired drug policies is urgent in light of the rising levels of violence and corruption associated with narcotics. The alarming power of the drug cartels is leading to a criminalization of politics and a politicization of crime. And the corruption of the judicial and political system is undermining the foundations of democracy in several Latin American countries.

The first step in the search for alternative solutions is to acknowledge the disastrous consequences of current policies. Next, we must shatter the taboos that inhibit public debate about drugs in our societies. Antinarcotic policies are firmly rooted in prejudices and fears that sometimes bear little relation to reality. The association of drugs with crime segregates addicts in closed circles where they become even more exposed to organized crime.

In order to drastically reduce the harm caused by narcotics, the long-term solution is to reduce demand for drugs in the main consumer countries. To move in this direction, it is essential to differentiate among illicit substances according to the harm they inflict on people’s health, and the harm drugs cause to the social fabric.

In this spirit, we propose a paradigm shift in drug policies based on three guiding principles: Reduce the harm caused by drugs, decrease drug consumption through education, and aggressively combat organized crime. To translate this new paradigm into action we must start by changing the status of addicts from drug buyers in the illegal market to patients cared for by the public-health system.

We also propose the careful evaluation, from a public-health standpoint, of the possibility of decriminalizing the possession of cannabis for personal use. Cannabis is by far the most widely used drug in Latin America, and we acknowledge that its consumption has an adverse impact on health. But the available empirical evidence shows that the hazards caused by cannabis are similar to the harm caused by alcohol or tobacco.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 23 February 2009 3:22 pm

    this is very encouraging stuff!

    its all true except the end. if the articles i’ve read are to be believed, marijuana has been shown, through hard science-—and i’ve linked many times on just search for “mota” or marijuana you BETcha–to deter alzheimers and inhibit cancer cell growth for starters. so i dont even know why they threw in those lines at the end…probably to appease those people who need it.

    its clear that the criminalization of drugs has lead to what are very much like the negative effects of prohibition, if i understand the history correctly. did that not empower organized crime to a large extent? so, there are the cartels who are directly empowered by a law that too large a crowd of humans have no vested interest in abiding by. and so there’s all this room for profit for and by and of those people.

  2. 23 February 2009 5:47 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with Nezua, BUT I disagree with his statement that the end of the press release. Studies HAVE shown that mariguana smoke contains even more virulent carcinogenic compounds than tobacco. Now if you extract the lovely stuff in mariguana with warm ethyl alcohol, that’s a VERY different thing. Good stuff!

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