Latin American states consider consequences of drug reform

Tackling the drug problem requires a ‘multifaceted’ and flexible approach, as well as a conviction to ‘maintain unity in the midst of diversity’, according to a report on Latin American drug policy by the Organization of American States – which includes all 35 independent states of the Americas (DDN, May, page 18). 

There is no single ‘drug problem in the Americas’, it says, but rather a range of issues relating to different stages of the cultivation, production, transit, sale and consumption processes, and the impacts they have on the countries of the region. The 400-page report is split into two documents – an analysis of the current situation and a ‘scenarios’ document looking at what might happen if different approaches were taken, including if certain countries no longer deployed the police and armed forces against the drug cartels. 

The aim was to ‘show the problem just as it is and how it manifests itself in different ways in our various countries and sub-regions’, said OAS secretary general José Miguel Insulza. ‘To show the volume of money that changes hands and who benefits from it; to show how it erodes our social organisation and how it undermines the health of our people, the quality of our governments and even our democracy.’ Decriminalisation of drug use ‘should be considered on the same basis as any public health strategy’, the document states. 

The reports represented ‘empirical evidence without prejudice’, said Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos at their launch. ‘Now the real work begins, which is the discussion at the political level. Let it be clear that no one here is defending any position, neither legalisation, nor regulation, nor war at any cost. What we have to do is use serious and well-considered studies like the one the OAS has presented us with today to seek better solutions.’

The documents also ‘set the scene for a vibrant high-level debate on alternative approaches’ in the run up to the 2016 UN General Assembly special session on drugs, said senior policy analyst at Transform, Steve Rolles, where they would ‘feed into the global debate’ on policy reform. ‘It will rightly be seen as a watershed moment for the doomed global war on drugs.’

While leaders had previously talked of a move from criminalisation to public health in drug policy, abstinence-only approaches had still dominated, ‘even in the health sphere’, said director of the Open Society International Harm Reduction Program, Daniel Wolfe. ‘These scenarios offer a chance for leaders to replace indiscriminate detention and rights abuses with approaches that distinguish between users and traffickers and offer the community-based health services that work best for those in need.’ 

The drug problem in the Americas and Scenarios for the drug problem in the Americas: 2013 -2025 available at