OAS Secretary General Presents Historic Drug Policy Report to President Santos of Colombia

Press Release May 16, 2013
Media Contact

<p>Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Ethan Nadelmann 646-335-2240</p>

The Organization of American States (OAS) released a report this morning that envisions possible scenarios for future drug control policy.  The OAS secretary general, José Miguel Insulza, will present it this afternoon to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the Casa de Nariño (the Colombian White House). The report – “Scenarios for the Drug Problem in the Americas, 2013-2025” – presents four possibilities for how drug policy could evolve in the Americas, most of which break from the current U.S.-led approach. The report is the first of its kind, providing a thoughtful and detailed visualization of alternatives to the existing drug prohibition regime.

The OAS received its mandate at last year’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena following a discussion among the presidents about the need for new drug control policies that could better reduce the violence and other negative consequences of prohibitionist policies.  With some presidents speaking openly in favor of legal regulation of currently illegal drugs, President Obama acknowledged that ending prohibition is “a legitimate topic for debate” and also stated: “I think it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are ones that are doing more harm than good in certain places.”

The OAS scenarios report will also be presented and discussed on Monday, in Washington, D.C., at the bi-annual meeting of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD).  Two weeks later (on June 4-6), the OAS will hold its General Assembly in Antigua, Guatemala, with drug policy as the principal item on the agenda.  These developments and others will undoubtedly shape the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, currently scheduled for 2016.

Statement by Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“Never before has a multilateral organization engaged in such an inclusive and intellectually legitimate analysis of drug policy options.  Indeed, it would have been inconceivable just two years ago that the OAS – or any multilateral organization – would publish a document that considers legalization, decriminalization and other alternatives to prohibitionist policies on an equal footing with status quo policies.  Political pressures by the US and other governments would have made that impossible.

Much has changed, however, in the past few years. In 2009, former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), César Gaviria (Colombia) and Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) joined with other members of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy in saying the time had come to “break the taboo” on exploring alternatives to the failed war on drugs.  In 2011, those presidents joined with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss and other members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy in calling for fundamental reforms to national and global drug policies.  Former presidents Jimmy Carter, Ricardo Lagos (Chile), Vicente Fox (Mexico) and Aleksander Kwasniewski (Poland) were among those who seconded their recommendations.

Beginning in late 2011, current presidents began to join the calls of their predecessors.  These included President Santos in Colombia, Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala, José Mujica in Uruguay and then-President Felipe Calderón of Mexico.  Simultaneously, the victorious marijuana legalization ballot initiatives in Washington State and Colorado transformed a previously hypothetical debate into real political reform.  Other states will almost certainly follow their lead in coming years.

The OAS scenarios report thus represents the important next step in elevating and legitimizing a discussion that until a few years ago was effectively banned from official government circles.  It is sure to have legs in a way that few reports by multilateral institutions ever do.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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