News from the drug policy reform front

The drug policy reform movement is gathering steam in Latin America and US activists are not even paying attention, even though it is happening at their doorstep!

I have said for a while that drug policy reform, or more precisely, legalization and control of the currently illicit drugs can only happen globally, or at least, it needs to involve enough of the key players of the illegal drug trade: producing countries, transiting countries and consuming countries. I have also said that Latin America is the only part of the world where can emerge a coalition of countries willing to legalize. Well, it looks like the process already started and is gaining momentum.

The latest event, which hasn’t received any press coverage in the US, might be one of the most significant in the long run. The International Forum “Drugs: A Balance to a Century of Their Prohibition” opened on Tuesday February 14th at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, inaugurated by no less than Mexican first lady Margarita Zavala, the wife of Mexican President Felipe Calderón. Now I let you digest this for a while. Just imagine such a forum inaugurated by the US first Lady at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

The forum is attended by various members of the Mexican government, including Secretary of the Interior Alejandro Poiré. The rooster of speakers includes many major tenors of the drug policy reform movement, including former presidents Cesar Gaviria from Colombia and Fernando Henrique Cardoso from Brazil, as well as former UK drug czar Mike Trace. The leaders of the major drug policy reform organizations in the world are there too, from LEAP founder Jack Cole, to Judge Jim Gray, Ethan Nadelmann, or Steve Rolles from UK-based Transform Drug Policy Foundation (TDPF). Speakers come all the way from Australia, Switzerland, Netherland, and include of course many Mexican experts.

The live stream of the forum, as well as recorded sessions, are available on ArgosTV.

Wednesday saw a passionate intervention by former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria, that you can listen on these links: and To hear a former president of one of the countries that has been the most affected by the war on drugs talk with such passion about the hopelessness of prohibitionism was heartening. Even politician can have epiphanies! Why do they wait to retire though, to truly speak up their mind? This, by the way, is the whole idea behind my own Calderon-Santos initiative: trying to convince the two key Latin American leaders to fully come out of the war-on-drugs closet and lead a coalition of the willing to legalize.

Steve Rolles gave a no-nonsense preview of a post-prohibition world, that bears a lot of similarities to my own roadmap at the conclusion of World War-D. If you want to find out how the rest of the world is looking at the war on drugs, I strongly encourage you to browse through the videos of the event.

The drug policy reform movement seems to be reaching a turning point with heads of states ready to jump onboard. This is indeed an important development. Up to now, only retired heads of states were vocal against the war on drugs. The coalition that I was calling for can now emerge. We all can accelerate the movement by expressing our support. The time has come for an international public opinion campaign to get behind those joining the reformist camp.

Some background on recent developments in drug policy reform

I have reported on this blog some of the major developments and will just recap here and refer you to previous posts.

The first clear indication of the emergence of a regional coalition for drug legalization came on December 6th, 2011, during a meeting of Latin Americans and Caribbean leaders in what is known as the Tuxtla System for Dialogue.

Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina started talking about drug policy reform 4 days after taking office on January 14th, 2012. He went much further on February 11th, announcing that he will propose drug legalization in Central America at the next meeting of regional leaders. The US promptly fired back that it would be a terrible idea, but Perez Molina stuck to his guns and briefly gained to his cause Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes on Monday the 13th. President Funes backpedalled shortly after getting back to Salvador, but it would of course be twisted to allege the effect of US pressure.

Guatemalan president Pérez Molina to propose drugs legalization in Central America at next meeting of regional leaders

Guatemalan president Pérez Molina announced today Saturday February 11, 2012 that he will propose drugs legalization in Central America, including legalization of transport of drugs in the upcoming meeting of regional leaders.

Pérez Molina said the war on drugs and all the money and technology received from the US has not diminished drug trafficking in the area. “Con toda la tecnología y los recursos y millones de dólares que dio Estados Unidos el problema no ha disminuido. Se habló del éxito del Plan Colombia pero lo único que hicieron los grandes carteles fue neutralizarlo”.

Drug policy reform may be on its way. Public support could make a huge difference. Now is the time to support the Calderon-Santos initiative.



Will global drug policy reform start in Latin America?

Drug policy reform cannot take place unilaterally; any country trying this route would be clobbered by the prohibitionist camp led by the US, and nobody will dare to venture on the reform path on his own. But what if a coalition was to emerge? My own geopolitical analysis leads me to believe that Latin America is the only place where such a coalition can initiate, and in fact, we might be witnessing the early signs of its formation.

Let’s go over recent developments:

President Santos of Colombia has repeatedly said that he is in favor of legalization, with a strong caveat, though: if the rest of the world agrees. Which is not going to happen anytime soon.

Meanwhile, President Calderon of Mexico, who launched a bloody battle against the drug cartels in 2006, seems to come to come to the realization that Mexico is getting the rotten end of the War on Drugs. He was especially incensed by the “fast and furious” debacle. Calderon started talking about seeking out “all possible options, including market alternatives” in his declaration following the August 25th, 2011 Monterey massacre: “If … they are resigned to consuming drugs, then they need to find alternatives … and establish clear points of access different from the border with Mexico, but this situation can’t keep going on like this.” He repeated similar assertions in various interviews and speeches throughout the fall of 2011, most notably during a speech to the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in New York. Such position was then adopted by the Tuxtla Dialogue and Agreement Mechanism in Mérida in its December 5th meeting. The Summit was attended by the presidents of Guatemala, Álvaro Colom; Honduras, Porfirio Lobo; Mexico, Felipe Calderón; Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega; Panama, Ricardo Martinelli; Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández; and First Vice-President of Costa Rica, Alfio Piva and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Belize, Wilfred Elrington; Colombia, María Ángela Holguín; and El Salvador, Hugo Martínez. President of Chile Sebastián Piñera also attended in his capacity as Special Guest. The Joint Statement on Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking, issued at the end of the meeting clearly bears Calderon’s mark, declaring:

“They indicated that What would be desirable, would be a significant reduction in the demand for illegal drugs. Nevertheless, if that is not possible, as recent experience demonstrates, the authorities of the consuming countries ought then to explore the possible alternatives to eliminate the exorbitant profits of the criminals, including regulatory or market oriented options to this end. Thus, the transit of substances that continue provoking high levels of crime and violence in Latin American and Caribbean nations will be avoided.”

In one of his first speeches after taking office, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina called for a regional strategy for decriminalization.

So, where does this leave us?

Painfully aware of the failure of current prohibitionist policies and the high price they are paying for it, Latin American leaders seem to be testing the water, but nobody has dared crossing the line yet. For a movement to coalesce, leaders need to emerge. Presidents Calderon and Santos clearly stand out. No other heads of state can lead and unite a coalition of the willing with the credibility and the stature of these two heads of state. For Calderon, who pretty much bet his presidency on the Mexican drug war, the reversal must be particularly painful.

What will it take for Calderon and Santos to step up and lead, in defiance of their over-bearish Northern neighbors? 2011 clearly demonstrated the power of popular expression to move things forward and force the hand of history. I am convinced that popular support can tip the balance, but it won’t happen without massive mobilization. To that effect, I wrote the Calderon-Santos Initiative, calling on Presidents Calderon of Mexico and President Santos of Colombia to take the lead of a global coalition for legalization and control of currently illicit drugs. (see I invite you to help promote this initiative and move forward global drug policy reform.

Sources and further readings:

Call for a global convention on psychoactive drugs

Call for a global convention on psychoactive drugs – a coalition of the willing to re-legalize and control

The entire war on drugs and drug prohibition are a US fabrication. Drug prohibition was imposed to the rest of the world when it was forcibly attached to the 1919 Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI.

Decriminalization wouldn’t do much to solve the biggest issues created by prohibitionism in the big world: the violence, corruption and destabilization brought about by narco-trafficking, which is itself the unavoidable consequence of prohibition. While the US is not likely to re-legalize any time soon, Latin American countries are becoming increasingly restive as the time of blind obedience to US diktats is fading into memory. I, for one, am pushing for a coalition of the willing, led by Presidents Calderon and Santos, and regrouping Latin-American, European and Asian countries, to initiate controlled legalization of production and trade of all psychoactive substances. The principal objective of such a convention should be to remove the production and commerce of currently illicit drugs from the control of organized crime, and to bring it back under the control of legitimate international and national organizations. The secondary objective should be to reduce harm throughout the entire supply chain, from the producers to the users.

I do not think that such a coalition is as far-fetched as most American would like to believe. The American century is over; it ended under G.W. Bush. The world is now a vastly different place.

A growing number of retired heads of state and high-level officials are denouncing the failure of the War on Drugs and calling for a paradigm shift in drug policy. But we need heads of states and high-level officials to take a stand while in office and actually initiate profound and real drug policy reform while they are still in office.

No other heads of state on the world scene can lead and unite a coalition of the willing with the credibility and the stature of a potential Calderon-Santos alliance. Both presidents have repeatedly expressed their support for alternatives to the current highly disruptive policies.

But neither President Calderon nor President Santos are likely to make a move without strong popular support behind them.

Thus, I invite all of you to support and diffuse the Calderon-Santos Initiative, calling for Presidents Calderon of Mexico and President Santos of Colombia to take the lead of a global coalition for legalization and control of currently illicit drugs. Check, as well as the attached files. Sign the open letter to Presidents Calderon and Santos, spread the word.