Strategic notes on global initiative

Preamble – strategic talking points:

The publication in June 2011 of the “Report of The Global Commission on Drug Policy” was a momentous event for the drug reform movement. Never before had so many prominent people of such high profile taken position against the war on drugs. The line-up of personalities behind the report was impressive indeed, with no other than the just retired UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and a slate of former heads of state from Latin America and Europe.

But what would it take for actual heads of state to convene a Global Convention on Psychoactive Substances with decision-making power? The objective of such a convention should be to enact a Global Protocol for regulating the production, trade, and consumption of currently illicit drugs. It should be a “coalition of the willing” to avoid the risk of hijacking by the prohibitionist camp.

There is clearly a growing support for fundamental drug policy reform throughout the world, that is producing a flurry of analysis and recommendations; but this movement has failed, so far, to coalesce into concrete action. It is like a saturated crystalline solution. A catalyst is needed to precipitate the crystallization of this support into meaningful reform. The major obstacle is that no single country wants to venture on its own on the legalization path. I believe an alliance of two key players could provide the catalyst needed to crystallize a strong coalition.

As far as I can see, presidents Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia are the best potential candidates to instigate such an initiative, with the possible assistance of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

As far-fetched as this might seem to most of you, I believe there is a remote, but distinct possibility of this happening. I also believe that 2012 offers a unique window of opportunity for such an event to take place, for various reasons that I will expose underneath:

  • Presidential elections are coming in Spain and France, then in Mexico, and finally in the US in 2012 (as well as India for that matter). Drug reform will be one of the central themes of the Mexican presidential campaign. In the US, marijuana legalization initiative will be placed on the ballot in probably half a dozen states. The debate about drugs will play a more modest role in Spain and France, although this could change if there is a coordinated international effort.
  • There is a power vacuum in the US, the instigator and architect of the global war on drugs, which will last through 2012 at least. For all practical purposes, the US is held hostage by a fanatical political fringe and doesn’t have a functioning government. There has never been a better time to confront US policies heads-on. In any case, the American century is over and the world is moving towards a multi-polar balance of power in which the US global influence is rapidly fading away.
  • Felipe Calderon is increasingly frustrated by his own war on drugs and by the hypocrisy and total lack of cooperation from the US government. He seems to be realizing that he is being bullied by the US to pick up an ever-growing human tab, with no end in sight.
  • Calderon will leave office in December 2012. Fox and Zedillo have been pressuring him to change his drug policies. Ex-President Fox in particular has been extremely bold and vocal. Calderon might want to improve his legacy at this stage in his presidency. Calderon is a known disciple of Milton Friedman.
  • Santos has repeated many times that he is open to legalization but doesn’t see how Colombia can realistically do it alone.

No other head of state can lead and unite a coalition of the willing with the credibility and the stature of a potential Calderon-Santos duo. Calderon is the tough one here. He has to be convinced to switch camps. There is a decent possibility though, with enough national, Latin American and international pressure, especially if there is another event like the recent massacre in Monterey, which might just be a matter of time.

Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador are natural allies at this point in time for such an initiative. Brazil, Argentine, and Uruguay are strong prospects. The war on drugs is often perceived as a cultural war in this part of the world, where the consumption of coca leaf and coca drinks is already in violation of the UN Single Convention.

Central America falling deeper and deeper into narco-chaos, Guatemala, Honduras and Salvador might be quite relieved by such an initiative. Costa Rica might join in. In the Caribbean, Jamaica, is a prime candidate.

The challenge will be for Calderon and Santos to reach out outside Latin America. European support will be critical and Asian support would also be needed. Various smaller European countries, such as the Czech Republic, Portugal, the Netherlands or even Spain, could get behind such an initiative, but in order to be successful, the initiative will need the backing of one of the three heads of the EU: UK, France or Germany. Of those, only the UK is a reasonable candidate as David Cameron, the sitting Prime Minister, has stated his support for legalization on various occasions, although he has back-pedaled since taking office. His Liberal Democrats allies are more squarely in favor of legalization. If the Calderon-Santos duo could be turned into a Calderon-Santos-Cameron trio, the momentum would be extremely strong and many more countries could jump in.

In Asia, India would be an outstanding recruit. The use of cannabis is an important part of the Indian religious and cultural heritage. An epidemic of heroin addiction is plaguing the country (as well as all of Central Asia) as a result of opium prohibition.

What will it take to get this to happen?

  • Massive international mobilization
  • Media campaigns
  • Active support of legalization-advocacy organizations
  • Active support of prominent individuals

If enough people from around the world get behind this, President Calderon and Santos might be convinced to lead a movement for drug reform while they are in office instead of waiting to retire before speaking out.

I want to get as much feed-back as possible on this initiative from legalization-advocacy groups and experts in the field.

I am then planning to send this open letter to as many publications as possible in the US, Latin America and Europe. Advocacy groups and high profile individuals will be encouraged to do the same. I also want to circulate it on the internet, trying to go viral with it, with instructions for people to send it to Calderon & Santos. I am getting it translated in Spanish.

I believe that this strategy is our best shot to get substantive drug policy reform in the near future.

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