US drug official William Brownfield

In a press conference that received little media attention, US official William Brownfield laid the groundwork for a new US approach to international drug policy, pointing to the changing political landscape on drug regulation in the Americas. 

In a meeting with reporters at the United Nations in New York on October 9, Brownfield set out the United States' position on international drug policy, including to "accept flexible interpretation" of the UN Drug Control conventions, which were first drafted in the 1960s. He stated that:

Things have changed since 1961. We must have enough flexibility to allow us to incorporate those changes into our policies ... to tolerate different national drug policies, to accept the fact that some countries will have very strict drug approaches; other countries will legalize entire categories of drugs.

Brownfield argued that, no matter their approach to drug regulation, all countries should "agree to combat and resist the criminal organizations -- not those who buy, consume, but those who market and traffic the product for economic gain."

Brownfield noted that changing legislation within the United States has affected the country's attitude to alternative drug policies in other countries. "How could I, a representative of the government of the United States of America, be intolerant of a government that permits any experimentation with legalization of marijuana if two of the 50 states of the United States of America have chosen to walk down that road?" Brownfield said.

Brownfield also revealed that he has agreed to exchange evaluations of marijuana legalization policies with government officials in Uruguay, in order to measure their impact on violence and organized crime.

The press conference was a follow-up to a speech Brownfield gave earlier that day to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly.

InSight Crime Analysis

Brownfield's remarks advocating a more flexible approach to international drug policy are a milestone for the drug policy reform movement. They are another indication that the United States is beginning to look at illicit drugs as a public health problem and not just a criminal justice issue. In the 2014 White House National Drug Control Strategy Report (pdf), President Barack Obama noted that reforms to the criminal justice system had addressed sentencing disparities for drug crimes and offered alternatives to prison for nonviolent substance abusers.

 SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy

Brownfield's statements come as the United States is facing increasing pressure to rethink drug policy, with regional allies such as Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico all moving towards liberalized policies.

The more liberal position from the United States may also reflect changing drug consumption patterns at home. Brownfield stated that US cocaine consumption is nearly half of what it was 10 years ago, while abuse of prescription medications is now the country's greatest drug threat, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This means that Washington may increasingly need to look inwards, rather than to Latin America, to fight its war on drugs.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions of ...

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

 Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

Well-armed vigilantes in Mexico's Michoacan state have helped authorities dismantle a powerful criminal organization, but now the government may have a more difficult task: keeping Michoacan safe from the vigilantes and rival criminal groups.

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

After the lower house passed the controversial marijuana bill July 31, Uruguay is poised to become the first country on the planet to regulate the production, sale, and distribution of the drug, and provide a model for countries looking for alternatives to the world’s dominant drug policy paradigm. ...

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

After the capture of Zetas boss "Z40," Nuevo Laredo is bracing itself for the worst. This investigation breaks down what makes the city such an important trafficking corridor, and what it will take for the Zetas to maintain their grip on the city.

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

Whether it is sustainable or not, the truce -- which the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio 18 put into place March 2012 -- has changed the conventional thinking about who the gangs are and what is the best way to handle the most difficult law and order ...

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Since the end of El Salvador's civil war, the country's police has become a key player in the underworld. This series of five articles explore the dark ties between criminal organizations and the government's foremost crime fighting institution.

Juarez after the War

Juarez after the War

As a bitter war between rival cartels grinds to an end, Ciudad Juarez has lost the title of world murder capital, and is moving towards something more like normality. InSight Crime looks at the role politicians, police, and for-hire street gangs played in the fighting -- asking who ...