OAS Drug Policy Declaration Shows Divisions in Americas

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The 43rd Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly concluded with a mixed message on drug policy that highlights the divisions still rife in the region over the best way to tackle drugs and organized crime.

In the Organization of American States (OAS) declaration (download here) that followed this week’s summit in Guatemala, states accepted the need for new approaches to tackling the drug trade and called for policies that are evidence-based, focus on drugs as a public health issue, and respect human rights.

However, the statement made no mention of legalization — of marijuana or any other drug — and stressed the importance of “fully implementing” the three existing international drug control conventions, which are all stridently prohibitionist.

The declaration also called for an approach that is coordinated on an international level but recognized the differences in how the issue manifests itself in different countries. On a national level, it said policies should be integrated — incorporating law enforcement, health, education, and social inclusion.

The debate will now continue with a consultation process on a national and regional level followed by a Special Session of the General Assembly to be held no later than 2014.

InSight Crime Analysis

The OAS declaration highlights how despite the seismic rhetorical and policy shifts seen in countries such as Colombia, Guatemala and Uruguay, the region is still a long way from building a new consensus over drug policy. (See InSight Crime’s map below that depicts country-by-country positions on drug policy in the region.)

While comments calling for debate over legalization made by leaders such as Guatemala’s Otto Perez have attracted all the attention recently, other countries such as Brazil, Peru, and Nicaragua have remained quietly but firmly prohibitionist.

(See InSight Crime’s special report on drug policy: Gorilla in the Room)

However, the main obstacle remains the stance of the United States, which continues to refuse to consider legalization despite several US states recently legalizing marijuana use. In fact, the United States may be the country most pleased with the final declaration as it neatly dovetails with the preferred approach of US President Barrack Obama, who favors a public health focused approach and a move away from the criminalization of drug users, but point blank refuses to place the end of prohibition on the negotiating table.

Drug Policy in the Americas: Country-by-Country

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