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

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

The power of Colombia's elites is founded upon one of the most unequal divisions of land in the world. As of the early 21st century, one percent of landowners own more than half the country's agricultural land.1  Under Spanish rule, Colombia's agriculture was organized on the hacienda...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras is currently one of the most violent countries on the planet that is not at war. The violence is carried out by transnational criminal organizations, local drug trafficking groups, gangs and corrupt security forces, among other actors. Violence is the focal point for the international aid...

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Organized crime and the violence associated with it is the preeminent problem in Latin America and the Caribbean today. The region is currently home to six of the most violent countries in the world that are not at war. Four of those countries are in Central America...

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

In a new report based on extensive field research, InSight Crime and the Asociacion para una Sociedad mas Justa have traced how Honduras' two largest gangs, the MS13 and the Barrio 18, are evolving, and how their current modus operandi has resulted in staggering levels of violence...

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Transnational organized crime likes opportunities and little resistance. Bolivia currently provides both and finds itself at the heart of a new criminal dynamic that threatens national and citizen security in this landlocked Andean nation.

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...

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

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.

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Faced with the government's failure to rein in the criminals, communities across crime-besieged Mexico have been trying for years to organize effective civic resistance. Michoacan's vigilantes express the most extreme response by society to date, but other efforts have been less belligerent. In battle-torn cities along the...

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

If Uruguay's proposal to regulate the production, sale and distribution of marijuana is properly implemented and overcomes political and economic hurdles, it could be the most important drug regulation experiment in decades.