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  http://calderon-santos.org/). I invite you to help promote this initiative and move forward global drug policy reform.

Sources and further readings:






10 goals for controlled re-legalization

10 goals for controlled re-legalization

As the drug policy reform movement gains traction around the world, it is critical that it reaches beyond its activist core and constructively address the legitimate concerns of the general public, as without its support, we are doomed to failure. The burden of proof is clearly on the drug-reformists side, as they need to overcome 100 years of official propaganda, moral panicking, fear mongering and brain washing. It is critical to be well informed, realistic and pragmatic, with clear objectives. This is one of the purposes of “World War-D”.

Therefore, I propose the following hierarchy of goals for controlled re-legalization:

  1. To greatly reduce, dismantle and if possible eliminate the illegal drug market. To reduce the presence and influence of organized crime. To reduce drug-related crime. The dismantling and elimination of the illegal drug market requires the dismantling of the prohibition system that created it in the first place.
  2. To reduce harm to existing users through safe and controlled legal access. To reduce the number of abusers/addicts; to reduce drug related deaths; to improve the health of remaining users/addicts; to improve their social integration.
  3. To reduce or eliminate the financial burden placed on taxpayers by the consequences of drug use and drug prohibition. To achieve taxpayer neutrality.
  4. To reduce initiation, especially among minors. Long-term improvements are predicated on substantially curbing initiation.
  5. To control and greatly minimize access to minors; eliminating access to minors altogether might be a laudable goal, but it is about as realistic as absolute sexual abstinence to reduce teen pregnancy.
  6. To reduce harm caused by problematic users to their proximate environment and to society at large.
  7. To prevent as much as possible moderate, responsible users from becoming problem users.
  8. To place reasonable access restrictions to the most damaging substances for new users and casual users.
  9. To acknowledge the legitimacy of the non-medical use of psychoactive substances and the potential danger of their abuse.
  10. To respect the civil liberties and lifestyle choices of informed, consenting adults as long as these choices do not intentionally endanger others. To end discrimination against users of psychoactive substances.

I believe these are realistic and attainable goals provided that the right policies are put in place. Unlike the fairly rigid prohibitionist model, there should be a lot of flexibility in the application of drug reform to allow for experimentation and adaptation to local realities. It should be obvious by now that those who wish to use psychoactive substances will go to great lengths to satisfy their desire, and it is far more advantageous for society to satisfy their need than to let the black market take care of it. The guiding concern shouldn’t be whether it is moral or immoral to provide psychoactive substances to those consenting adults who which to use them, but what is the least harmful way to do it.

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 http://calderon-santos.org/, as well as the attached files. Sign the open letter to Presidents Calderon and Santos, spread the word.

Drug Policy Reform World Brief

Drug policy reform in the making


Residents of Switzerland and the Basque Region of Spain can legally grow MJ for personal use since January 1st, 2012.

Denmark: The City Council of Copenhagen voted for legalizing marijuana. In the proposed scheme, cannabis products would be available in restricted quantities in government-run specialized stores. The government would also regulate production.



Poland: On December 9 the new Polish drug law came into effect and liberalized the drug policy. According to the new rules, the prosecutor will be able to dismiss the criminal charges if the offender possessed only small amount of drugs for personal use and he finds that punishment is not necessary.

Poles were asked about the idea of legalizing marijuana possession for personal use. On December 12th 2011, 67% of respondents answered yes, while only 32% said no – and about 1% of respondents were undecided. These results show that the public attitudes to drug policy liberalization are changing rapidly in Poland.

In the US:

Four states have asked federal officials to reclassify marijuana (Washington, Colorado, Vermont and Rhode Island.

MJ legalization initiative will be on the ballot in 2012 in Colorado, Washington, and probably California.

UK: The widely respected “The Lancet” published on January 6, 2012 a three-part Series of articles on drug use and addiction: http://www.thelancet.com/series/addiction

According to the Lancet, estimated 149—271 million people used an illicit drug worldwide in 2009. To give you a better idea, if drug users were a country, it would be the 5th largest country in the world.
Some of its key findings:

  • The international drug control system has not ensured adequate medical supply of opioids, particularly in low-income and middle-income countries, but also in some high-income countries.
  • The system has not effectively restricted the non-medical use of controlled drugs, and illicit drug production, manufacture, and use is now a global issue. Illicit drug use accounts for a substantial and increasing global burden of disease.
  • The system’s emphasis on criminalisation of drug use has contributed to the spread of HIV, increased imprisonment for minor offences, encouraged nation states to adopt punitive policies (including executions, extra-judicial killings, imprisonment as a form of treatment, and widespread violations of UN-recognised human rights of drug users), and impaired the collection of data on the extent of use and harm of illicit drugs, all of which have caused harm to drug users and their families.
  • The international system precludes policies that are more aligned to the risks of drug use and the adverse consequences of prohibition, such as the regulation of producers, consumers, and the conditions under which drugs are used.
  • Policy experimentation requires changes to the international treaties, which are possible in principle but unlikely in practice. Other options include renunciation of the treaties and re-accession with reservations, or adoption of a new treaty.

Bottom line on medical MJ

Bottom line on medical marijuana: prohibition is the worst possible form of control and create immense collateral damage. Medical marijuana has been a welcome relief — and a diversion, whose limits are sticking out more and more everyday. It also created a grey marketplace were some flourished.

All psychoactive substances, whether legal (alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, etc), prescription or illegal work the same way. Our neurons don’t read labels and couldn’t care less about legal status. Patterns of use are similar for all psychoactive substances: a small percentage will abuse while the vast majority use responsibly, and regular moderate use is often good for health (true for caffeine, alcohol, coca leaf, some prescription drugs, and probably MJ or opium). Moderate use of opium was the general rule for thousands of years as opium was one of the basis of medicine (and still is, ironically – opiates still are the best pain-management tools around).

The war on drugs is also a cultural war, touting alcohol, the dominant psychoactive  substance of Western civilization, against the dominant psychoactive substances of Andean or Eastern civilization: coca leaf, cannabis and opium; meanwhile, the western-dominated pharmaceutical industry is flooding the planet with a new generation of psychoactive substances in its (so far very successful) attempt at medicalization of normalcy. This, by the way, is one of the dominant theme of my just released ” World War-D: the case against prohibitionism. A roadmap to controlled re-legalization.”

The only viable long-term solution to the drug issue: global re-legalization under a multi-tiers “legalize, tax, control, prevent, treat and educate” regime with practical and efficient mechanisms to manage and minimize societal costs.

Far from giving up and far from an endorsement, controlled legalization would be finally growing up; being realistic instead of being in denial; being in control instead of leaving control to the underworld. It would abolish the current regime of socialization of costs and privatization of profits to criminal enterprises, depriving them of their main source of income and making our world a safer place.

The War on Drugs moves to reality (TV that’s it)

Two new reality TV shows feature the war on drugs:

The Discovery Channel launches “Weed Wars”, featuring Harborside Health Center, the  largest medical marijuana dispensary in California (and probably in the world). Premiere today, Thursday 10 p.m. on Discovery.

DUI (two 30-minute episodes) focuses on “the disastrous financial and personal losses that come for everyday working folks arrested for DUI.” Premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on TLC. DUI starts with a grandmother busted because the passengers of her car were smoking weed while she was driving.

For more details, check the Washington Post article

or the Mercury News article


“Nut” Gingrich on the War on Drugs

While he admits to smoking pot in college, Newt Gingrich in an interview with Yahoo 2 days ago wants death penalty for Mexican drug dealers and mandatory testing for any kind of federal aid, including unemployment benefit. He would also crack down on medical MJ. Click here for the full article, just in case you had any doubt left on the mental sanity of “Nut” Gingrich, and just in case you were entertaining the idea of supporting him.

Here is an excerpt from “World War-D” dedicated to this dangerous nut:

“Newt Gingrich deserves a special lifetime award for hypocrisy. He has repeatedly tried to push legislation requiring the death penalty for drug traffickers (which incidentally is prohibited under international law) and went as far as proclaiming “I want a World War Two style victory plan – a decisive, all out cataclysmic effort to break the back of the drug culture.” But he admitted to smoking pot in the 1970s because it “was a sign that we were alive and in graduate school in that era.” “See, when I smoked pot it was illegal, but not immoral. Now, it is illegal AND immoral. The law didn’t change, only the morality. That’s why you get to go to jail and I don’t. Any questions?” Yes, does he really believe his own bullshit?”


Two governors ask the feds to reclassify MJ for medical use

From Lucia graves on the Hufftington Post:

Govs. Lincoln Chafee (I-R.I) and Chris Gregoire (D-Wash.) on Wednesday called on the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, which would allow it to be dispensed for medicinal use.