Let's Consider a Change
"To try to do something which is inherently impossible is always a corrupting enterprise."
Today I am in the beautiful city of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, where I have the honor to participate in the CEO Summit of the Americas 2012, which is taking place in the framework of the VI Summit of the Americas, attended by the main heads of state and government of the hemisphere.
I find that one of the main issues, even if it is not on the official agenda, is the so-called War on Drugs. In relation to this question, I find my notes on a forum on drugs held a few weeks ago and organized by the Mexico United Against Crime organization quite relevant.
Several times in this blog I have discussed the subject of illegal substances, always within a framework of freedom and respect, but today it seems to me to be important to share some of the ideas that were discussed at this forum, which unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to attend but that I was made aware of through the reports of friends and colleagues, among other sources.
There were several conclusions that emerged from this conference, all in the same direction, namely, that the anti-drug strategy does not end with production or consumption, the issue should be seen as a health problem.
One of the most interesting presentations was from Pulitzer Prize winner George Will, who brilliantly summed up the absurdity of the current drug policy by comparing it the myth of Sisyphus, condemned to a futile attempt to roll a bolder up a mountain.
For Will, the diagnosis of the problem must begin by accepting a reality that we cannot change, namely that drug use will never go away.
Attacking production, the journalist says, generates what is known as a "balloon effect", in that when you press one point another bulges out. If you fight production or trafficking, the criminals will seek new places in which to produce drugs and new routes to traffic them.
He cited the case of Colombia, which reduced the number of hectares of land dedicated to cocaine production through the Plan Colombia, but this led to an increase in production in Peru and Bolivia. Production was not reduced, and, on the contrary, thanks to intensive cultivation techniques, it increased.
Another speaker, Mike Trace, the former UK drug czar, warned that after 100 years of policies aimed at prohibiting dugs, it has been demonstrated that this option is useless. Any government that promises to win the "war" and eliminate the market for illegal substances, is not realistic or honest. Continuing with the same approach creates conditions for increasing violence and corruption due to the huge profits that this activity offers criminals.
Therefore, according to this expert, the challenge is to find ways to manage these markets and drug consumption so as to minimize crime, violence, and health-related consequences.
One option, put forward by Mark Kleiman, a professor at the University of California, is to focus the strategy to fighting the distributors in the United States who are associated with the most violent criminal gangs in Mexico.
In terms of managing the markets, there were two specific proposals for regulating drugs, both of them very similar. One was put forward by the Transform Drug Policy Foundation and another by economist Bernardo Gonzalez-Aréchiga.
The basic permise behind these proposals is to remove control of the illegal drug market from the criminal gangs with the idea of regulating all the processes involved, such as production and distribution, the different drugs that are available, dealers, points of sale, and buyers.
The specialists made it clear that this model does not mean the liberalization of the market. Nor would it encourage consumption through advertising or the creation of brand names, which should be completely banned, similarly to what is done with other legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco.
On the contrary, policies aimed at preventing and discouraging the use of drugs would be strengthened, using the example of successful campaigns against smoking. In addition, more resources would be earmarked for the treatment of addiction, and police could then focus their efforts on the crimes that are more harmful to society.
In different parts of the world there is a rising tide in favor of decriminalization and considering the issue from a public health standpoint. In the United States, 16 states have legalized the medicinal use of cannabis and 12 more are considering doing so.
Acting presidents of Latin American countries such as Guatemala are now talking about discussing legalization. Today, many believe that it is demagogic, irrational, and counterproductive to fill the prisons with people who only committed the crime of possessing a few grams of marijuana, a substance whose harmful effects are still quite controversial.
In the end, the forum outlined a key concept: while drugs are harmful and their use should be discouraged, prohibiting them does not reduce consumption. Today many Latin American presidents and former presidents share this view.
According to Fernando Henrique Cardoso, "change is more necessary than ever. The violence and corruption associated with drug trafficking have reached a level that democratic institutions and the very essence of social life are under attack in several Latin American countries. The current repressive policy has failed, with disastrous consequences for our countries." Faced with the reality described by Cardoso, it is time to explore and debate other alternatives without resorting to hypocrisy. Our future is at stake.