UN Drug Control Board Scolds Reform in Latin America

In its most recent report, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) — responsible for overseeing the implementation of the United Nation’s drug conventions — finds itself in a bind: the Board remains adamant that these conventions be enforced, yet a wave of drug policy reform across the Americas speaks to increased resistance to the status quo. 

The INCB’s annual reports are meant to “identify and predict dangerous trends” when it comes to drug control. This year, when it comes to Latin America, five trends in particular stand out, although some are arguably more “dangerous” than others. 

1.) The INCB’s Resistance to Drug Policy Reform

The INCB, established in 1961, is mandated with upholding and enforcing the UN drug conventions. Recent legislation in the Americas, however — including marijuana legalization in Uruguay, Jamaica, and the US states of Alaska, Colorado, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia — are in direct contravention of the UN’s international drug treaties.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Uruguay Marijuana Legalization

Indeed, increased discussion of alternative drug policies in the region — and a general shift towards greater leniency with drugs on the part of governments and voters — has put the INCB on the defensive. In the foreword of its new report, the INCB states that while international drug control conventions are often portrayed “as instruments of prohibition and punishment,” such an interpretation is “misguided.” A fundamental principle of the UN treaties is limiting drug use to medical and scientific purposes, the document goes on to say, adding, “This legal obligation is absolute and leaves no room for interpretation.”

In 2016, the UN will host a General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) to discuss drug policy reform, largely as a result of growing demands for changes to the international drug control regime. Various political leaders in Latin American nations have been especially active in calling for reform and taking action towards that end.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy

Nonetheless, despite the wave of small drug policy reforms throughout the Americas, and in the shadow of the upcoming UNGASS, the INCB is sticking to its guns, maintaining that the current international regulations remain necessary and relevant. 

2.) Increased Trafficking of Precursor Chemicals in Central America

The INCB report documents how precursor chemicals, particularly chemical substances not controlled by the 1988 drug convention, are increasingly being moved through through Central America. This includes shipments of methylamine — an uncontrolled substance used to produce methamphetamine — seized in Mexico while en route to Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Belize has also become a hub for precursor chemicals (again, sourced from Mexico) for methamphetamine production. Over 156 tons of precursor chemicals were seized in the Central American country in June 2012 alone. 

Indeed, recent years has seen Central American nations — Guatemala especially — play a bigger role in the region’s synthetic drug trade, with Mexican trafficking groups such as the Sinaloa Cartel leading the way. 

3.) Mexican Meth Production on the Rise

According to the INCB, seizures of methamphetamine at the US-Mexico border have significantly increased, from just over two tons in 2008 to over 10 tons in 2012,  a trend that InSight Crime has previously reported on. California alone seized almost 15,000 pounds of methamphetamine at points of entry during the 2014 fiscal year, a record for the state. Much of this methamphetamine is believed to be sourced from Mexican drug trafficking organizations, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

Citing the DEA, the INCB report states that the price of methamphetamine in the US has dropped 70 percent since 2007, while purity has increased 130 percent, further indication of the drug’s increased availability in the country.  

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

Authorities in Japan — where methamphetamine seizures have been increasing — have also suggested that Mexican drug trafficking organizations are supplying the drug to its domestic market, according to the INCB. This insinuation is in line with past attempts by the Sinaloa Cartel to establish a greater presence in Asia.

4.) Coca Cultivation, Cocaine Seizures Decrease in Andes

Bolivia saw coca cultivation drop to 23,00 hectares in 2013, its lowest level since 2002, according to the INCB. This is just above the target of 20,000 hectares that Bolivia set as part of its 2011-2015 national strategy to combat drug trafficking and reduce coca leaf production. The INCB also noted that the number of clandestine, cocaine-producing labs destroyed by the government rose sharply, reaching 67 in 2013. That year also saw Bolivia seize 22 tons of cocaine, the lowest level since 2007. 

All together, this numbers suggest that preventing transnational, cocaine-trafficking organizations from entrenching themselves in Bolivia remains a serious challenge for the Andean country

SEE ALSO: Evo’s Challenge: Bolivia the Drug Hub

The INCB also reported that the total area under coca cultivation in Peru dropped about 22 percent between 2012 and 2013. These numbers, however, are several years old, and  it remains to be seen how delays in rolling out crop substitution programs in the VRAEM — Peru’s most prolific coca-growing region — will affect efforts to reduce coca and cocaine production.

In Colombia, one important development identified by the INCB was the country’s high rates of cocaine and coca base seizures, the highest in South America, with 230 tons seized in 2013. Indeed, Colombian drug trafficking groups have been experimenting with trafficking coca base instead of powder cocaine, while domestic drug use has also been on the rise in recent years.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Cocaine Production

5.) Marijuana Use on Rise in South America

The INCB observed rising marijuana use in various Latin American countries like Colombia and Chile, and took note of the major role that Paraguay continues to play in the regional marijuana trade, as seizures in that country more than doubled in 2013. Paraguay is estimated to produce roughly half of South America’s marijuana, much of which supplies demand in neighboring Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.