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UN Agrees to LatAm's Calls for Debate on Global Drug Policy

Mexico's Felipe Calderon addressing the United Nations Mexico's Felipe Calderon addressing the United Nations

The United Nations General Assembly has backed a proposal put forth by several Latin American countries to debate alternative approaches to the war on drugs, a move which could raise international support for drug law reform and legalization.

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The UN General Assembly has voted in favor of a motion -- initially put forward by Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Belize and Honduras -- to hold a special session on global drug policy.

The resolution received the support of 95 countries present at a November 27 UN General Assembly meeting, and the drug policy summit is now scheduled to take place in 2016.

The idea was initially proposed at a General Assembly meeting in September, when Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia issued a joint statement addressed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon questioning the efficacy of current drug laws and calling on the international organization to convene a conference to discuss alternatives to the dominant global approach to drug policy.

On November 12, the presidents of Honduras, Costa Rica and Belize added their support to the proposal after meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. The measure also received backing at the recent Ibero-American Summit in Cadiz, Spain, in which the majority of Latin American governments, as well as those of Spain and Portugal, voted in favor of a resolution endorsing a special UN session on the matter.

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Over the last year the push for drug policy reform has gained momentum, as the leaders of some Latin American countries most affected by the drug trade have called for a review of strategies and open discussion on the possibility of legalization or decriminalization of some illicit substances. The backing by internationally respected center-right leaders like Calderon and Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos, as well as Guatemala's Otto Perez, has brought the issue of legalization onto the international stage in a way that previously seemed unthinkable.

In the near future, some countries in the region may reject the dominant approach to drug policy altogether. Uruguay, for instance, is on the verge of passing a bill which would legalize marijuana consumption and establish government-run distribution centers for the drug.

[See InSight Crime's special on growing support for drug policy reform in the hemisphere]

However, such initiatives have encountered significant opposition, and leaders who propose them have had to confront the political risk associated with being labelled "soft on drugs." So far, the one country Latin American drug policy reformers need on their side the most, the United States, has accepted the need for debate but ruled out any talk of legalization.

While the 2016 special session could easily be derailed by the same considerations, if Latin American countries use the next three years to continue to push for reform then it may also mark the beginning of a new global consensus on drug policy.

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