Drug legalization gaining support

February 21, 2012


For the first time since the United States launched its “war on drugs” four decades ago, there are signs that the forces supporting legalization or de-criminalization of illegal drugs are gaining momentum across the hemisphere.

Granted, this is a debate that is just starting at government levels, and that will take years to produce concrete results.

But there are several new factors, including a reduction of U.S. anti-narcotic aid to Latin America proposed by the Obama administration in its 2013 budget announced last week, that are beginning to pose an increasingly serious challenge to the traditional interdiction-based U.S. anti-drug strategies.


l First, for the first time, Latin American presidents currently in office are openly calling for government-to-government talks to discuss legalization or decriminalization of illicit drugs.

Last week, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said he will propose to his Central American counterparts to legalize drugs in the region and to decriminalize the transportation of drugs through the area.

“I want to bring this discussion to the table,” Perez Molina was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. “It wouldn’t be a crime to transport, to move drugs. It would all have to be regulated.”

Aides to Perez Molina tell me that he will bring it up at a pre-scheduled meeting of Central American countries next month.

Until now, several former presidents — Vicente Fox and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, among them — have signed statements calling for the legalization or decriminalization of drugs, but they only did it once they had left office. The current presidents of Mexico and Colombia say they are open to discuss the issue, but that they will not lead the pack.

l Second, simultaneously, the United States plans to reduce its anti-drug aid to Latin America by 16 percent next year, according to the 2013 budget the Obama administration sent to Congress last week.

According to the budget proposal, U.S. narcotics control and law enforcement funds to Mexico would be cut by nearly $50 million, or 20 percent from last year’s levels, while anti-drug funds to Colombia would drop by 11 percent, and to Guatemala by 60 percent.

Supporters of the U.S. aid cuts say the decline reflects in part Latin American countries’ growing capabilities to fight the drug cartels by themselves. Critics dispute that, saying that it’s hard to argue that Mexico and Guatemala, among others, need less foreign anti-drug aid.

l Third, while there is no movement on this issue in the U.S. Congress, pro-decriminalization forces in the United States are making significant progress at the state level.

There are already 13 states that have approved use of marijuana for medical purposes, and three others will propose it in state ballots in the November election.

In addition, some experts predict that California’s Proposition 19 marijuana legalization initiative, which lost by 8 percent of the vote in 2010, is likely to pass in November. Their reasoning: more young people — who tend to support legalization — will vote in this year’s general election in California than they did in the 2010 mid-term election.

Before concluding this column, I asked University of Miami professor Bruce Bagley, an expert on U.S. drug-policies in Latin America, how he sees the various challenges against the traditional interdiction and prohibition-based U.S. drug policies.

“This is becoming a kind of avalanche,” said Bagley, who supports decriminalization of marijuana. “There is a growing questioning of the hard-line drug policies both in Latin America and here in the United States.”

Bagley added, “Prevention, education, treatment and rehabilitation programs are more effective than drug-supply repression.”

My opinion: I agree. Granted, decriminalization of marijuana would bring about an increase of consumption at the beginning. Most studies show that when the United States lifted the prohibition against alcohol, the price of alcohol went down, and consumption went up. The same may happen with drugs.

But most studies also show that — much like happened with cigarette smoking — effective campaigns can dramatically reduce drug consumption, without the sequel of domestic crime epidemics and “wars,” such as the ones that are leaving tens of thousands of deaths a year in Mexico and Central America’s drug-related violence.

Until now, this was a debate that was limited to former presidents, academics and journalists. Now, it’s beginning to make its way into government houses.

— Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. His email is aoppenheimer@miamiherald.com


Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 3 months ago

This is a repeat of a comment I made on the March 24, 2009 article titled: 'Random drug testing of welfare recipients approved'

I once read someone's opinion. It was something like, instead of spending money and effort ferreting out people who sell or use street drugs in order to met out very expensive punishment, it should be used instead to discover the reasons WHY they do it.

And then, work on eliminating the reasons WHY.

Made sense to me!

Mark Kostner 6 years, 3 months ago

Never in my wildest psychedelic dreams of the Hippie era did I think we'd be busting people for weed in 2012. As the decades pass, people forget that Marijuana laws were put in place to keep Prohibition agents busy and Dupont didn't want commercial hemp in operation. LSD was a drug the government was experimenting with for mind control and heroin was used to cure morphine addiction. We' didn't learn from Prohibition and the drug war has created mafias hundreds of times worse than La Cosa Nostra. Instead of sucking all the smoke out of a joint, we've sucked all the freedom out of our country. We're spending money we haven't got to solve a problem we never had. Our ancestors in horse and buggies drank Coca Cola that was really coca, smoked joints in speakeasies, and were proscribed heroin by their doctors. Do Bayer, Pfizer, and Merck control us to the point we'll fight their competition for decades to come even if it means bloody civil wars in third world. I live on the border where the drug war is a real shooting war, worse than Iraq, with beheadings and all. There are certain laws that are unpopular and fall in the end. Prohibition, the 55 mph speed limit, and I predict drug laws and income taxes. This system isn't working.

Ragingbear 6 years, 3 months ago

I love how many times they use the word or phrase "drugs" or "illicit drugs' when the actual word is marijuana. It's all about the propaganda. This article tries to make it look like people want to legalize meth and heroin.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 3 months ago

I have always maintained that a huge part of the reason that marijuana (and other drugs, for that matter) have remained illegal is because of the drug cartels themselves. There is an old saying, "Follow the money." Ask yourselves these questions: Who stands to gain the most from continued prohibition? Who stands to lose the most from legalization? It's certainly not the pharmaceutical companies. They actually stand to "gain" the most from legalization. Many of them have already trademarked names for their hopeful future products. Government itself stands to gain a huge amount. Less money spent on a failed "war", fewer lives lost, income from heavy taxation of the product to pay for regulation and enforcement (plus pure profit) all equals a win-win situation. So why hasn't it happened? See above.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 3 months ago

If marijuana were to become legal again the people who are selling it to high school students would lose their income, and the economy would crash.

So, it is necessary to leave the present laws on the books to prevent an economic collapse.

gr 6 years, 3 months ago

"there are signs that the forces supporting legalization or de-criminalization of illegal drugs"

Drugs are already legal.
Well, at least the legal ones are. The illegal ones are still illegal, but once they are legal, they won't be illegal. They'll be legal drugs.

Then we could call them such things as morning pick-me-ups, flavoring, social use, or health care.

Shane Garrett 6 years, 3 months ago

Sorry for all those who lost their jobs due to company policy. Like the sports stories about past heroes who sprinkled pot on their pancakes, or who pitched on LSD. Dislike the troubling stories about friends and rock stars who died from alcohol and pain killers that led to a heart attack. I really do not see America ever finding a common ground on this issue.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

Why not? We found common ground on Prohibition, and this is just an extension of that.

The argument isn't that drugs are good for anybody, it's that the government shouldn't be involved in adult decisions like that, similar to drinking alcohol, coffee, smoking, or eating unhealthful food.

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 3 months ago

Prohibition of alcohol. We learned nothing. Prohibition 2.0 is 40-years old and, like its predecessor, a complete failure. Yet we continue to ruin people's lives for making personal decisions on how they treat their body. The War on Drugs is actually a War on America. Land of the free, home of the brave. The land of liberty! We have more people in prison per capita than any other country in the world!

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 3 months ago

The War on Drugs gave birth to the Prison Industrial Complex.

claygooding 6 years, 3 months ago

All the deaths,,all the costs are not because of the drugs or the people using them,,it is because of prohibition we are even discussing it here.

With out prohibition the cartels and street gangs would never have become so deadly,the cash cow created by prohibition empowered the cartels so much they are now a major player in the money market,,just ask the UN,,they saved our asses in the last bank upchuck contest.

kernal 6 years, 3 months ago

Marijuana, the biggest cash crop in the U.S.; and, how many are still not paying taxes on it? Thousands when you consider the growers, distributors and users.

Legalizing it will save lives, put a good sized dent in our rising deficit and put the cartels out of business. Part of the trickle down effect will be illegal immigration problem righting itself and medical costs will improve.

Ragingbear 6 years, 3 months ago

Not only would marijuana legalization encourage a major economic boom (which would catapult us leaps and bounds above any other global superpower in the economic sense) but would also apply to things like the Frito Lay plant, as more pot smokers=more munchies.

It would also result in fewer DUI related traffic deaths, and arrest. It could also open the door to finding out what potential there truly is in the stuff. There are cannabinoids that have shown excellent potential as use for MS and Alzheimer's that have no "buzz" to them. There are many others that show potential for many other things. As for the munchie aspect, imagine an anti-munchie drug originally derived from what we learn about the munchies in the first place.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 3 months ago

The other most beautiful First Lady in history would disagree. She said "Just say No to drugs." The other other most beautiful First Lady in history just redecorated the White House and didn't get involved in social issues. I sometimes think she was the smartest of all of them.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 3 months ago

I wonder how many people are aware that Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World with hemp sails to catch the wind. Cotton sails have never been used for any Atlantic crossings because it rots before you get across the ocean, leaving you stranded.

And, how many realize that the first draft of the Constitution of the United States of America was written on hemp paper?

History: Textiles have been made out of hemp products for thousands of years.

George Washington grew hemp by the ton on his plantation. How much more American can you get than that?

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 3 months ago

And during WWII, the government paid farmers in Kansas to grow hemp.

Hemp for Victory! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0xHCk...

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 3 months ago

Interesting to learn that Dupont Chemical funded the anti- hemp / marijuana effort. This is because they had patents on new synthetic fibers and Hemp had a new machine that would put them out of business if hemp were to be used for clothes. Dupont also sold - and still does many of the chemicals to wood pulp producers.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 3 months ago

"When bongs are outlawed only outlaws will have bongs." - origin obscure

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 3 months ago

There is another thing that many are not aware of. Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis are among the most genetically variable plants in the world.

That means that by selective breeding, almost limitless pharmaceutical products are possible. After a cultivar has been produced that produces a desired pharmaceutical product, it won't need to be manufactured, it will grown on farms instead.

Maddy Griffin 6 years, 3 months ago

Could be. Seems like we lose more folks to the legal drugs. Has anyone ever heard of anyone over-dosing and dying from weed??

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 3 months ago

Know how to tell the difference between a drunk driver and a stoned driver? A drunk driver runs a stop sign. A stoned driver sits there and waits for it to turn green.

kansanbygrace 6 years, 3 months ago

Thanks cait...made my day. Damn this sign is slow.....

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