In My Opinion

Andres Oppenheimer: OAS report breaks ground on marijuana

Latin American presidents who support decriminalization of marijuana won a big diplomatic victory in recent days when the 34-country Organization of American States issued a report that considers that option as one of several policies that might help reduce the region’s drug-related violence.

The 400-page OAS report, entitled The Drug Problem in the Americas, had been commissioned by Latin American countries at last year’s Summit of the Americas attended by President Barack Obama in Cartagena.

While it doesn’t make recommendations, it cites decriminalization of marijuana as one of several policy options that countries might adopt, in effect putting the option on the table. It is believed to be the first time that an international organization considers decriminalization of marijuana use as a possible drug policy.

The report calls for “greater flexibility” in anti-drug policies, and notes there are “trends that lead toward the decriminalization or legalization of the production, sale and use of marijuana.”

It adds that “sooner or later, decisions in this area will need to be taken.”

Conversely, decriminalizing or legalizing other drugs, such as cocaine, wouldn’t be a good idea, it says. While marijuana is not more harmful than alcohol or tobacco, it says other drugs are.

In an interview, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza told me that the report merely presents scenarios, and “tries not to lean toward any particular option.” But he conceded there is general agreement among experts who participated in the study on the need to treat illicit drugs as a health problem, rather than as a law-enforcement problem, a key point of decriminalization proponents.

“If a person is ill, you don’t throw that person in jail,” Insulza told me. “That person needs a special treatment, a treatment for somebody who has a serious addiction that must be overcome.”

The OAS report comes after several Latin American presidents, including those of Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Uruguay, have called for changes in the U.S.-backed “war on drugs” that has left tens of thousands of dead in recent years.

These calls have intensified since Colorado and the state of Washington approved recreational use of marijuana last year. It is becoming increasingly hypocritical for the United States to ask other countries to fight marijuana growers, when the drug is legally consumed in several U.S. states, Latin American officials say.

Ex-presidents react

Former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, Ricardo Lagos of Chile, and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico — leading members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which supports legal regulation of all drugs — welcomed the OAS report.

Gaviria told me in a separate interview that while the OAS report doesn’t openly support decriminalization or legalization of drugs, “it broke the taboo that you couldn’t talk about these issues. Now, it has become a legitimate debate.”

The OAS report — which, incidentally, is so convoluted and badly written that it’s hard to get a general message out of it — is to be discussed at the OAS General Assembly in June. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina has called for discussing legalization of all drugs at the meeting, which will be held in Guatemala.

The report might set in motion a diplomatic process that could lead to amending United Nations conventions that declare several drugs illegal. The U.N. General Assembly is scheduled to hold a Special Session on Drugs in 2016.

My opinion: I’m not sure that legalizing drugs would be a great idea in Latin America. It would put many already corrupt governments in charge of regulating and controlling billions of dollars of the newly-legalized drug business.

That might work in Holland or in other European countries with strong institutions. But in Guatemala, Honduras, and other countries where the police and justice systems are already being corrupted by the drug trade, it could weaken institutions further.

It makes sense

But decriminalizing marijuana consumption makes sense. Instead of putting pot smokers in jail, tying up courts and sending young people to jails where they are recruited by criminals, we should use those funds to launch massive campaigns to dissuade young people from consuming all drugs.

In that sense, the OAS report is a step forward. There is little doubt that the U.S. war on drugs is not working — so much so, that the Obama administration is no longer using that term — and that alternatives must be found.

Read more Andres Oppenheimer stories from the Miami Herald

Argentine vice president Amado Boudou, right, shakes hands with China's president Xi Jinping during his visit to the Argentine Congress in Buenos Aires on July 19, 2014.

    In My Opinion

    Andres Oppenheimer: China is flexing its muscle in Latin America

    On his visit to Latin America, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised new trade and investment deals that he said will lift China’s booming economic ties with the region to new heights. Many Latin American leaders hailed it as great news amid their countries’ economic slowdowns.

  • In My Opinion

    Andres Oppenheimer: BRICS’ emerging world bank: good idea, bad timing

    This week’s announcement by the presidents of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — the so-called BRICS countries — that they will create their own international financial institution was greeted with polite skepticism and some criticism in Washington D.C. But on this issue, the BRICS are doing the right thing.

  • In My Opinion

    Andres Oppenheimer: Brazil leader down but not out by World Cup loss

    The conventional wisdom is that Brazil’s humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup has created an unprecedented climate of gloom that will affect President Dilma Rousseff’s chances to win reelection in October. But the conventional wisdom may be wrong: there are several reasons to believe that she may still win a second term.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category