UN Criticizes LatAm Drug Legalization Moves

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In its latest annual drugs report, the United Nations’ independent drugs watchdog has sharply criticized pro-legalization arguments being made by some Latin American nations, mentioning Uruguay and Central American countries.

The International Narcotics Control Board’s 2012 report, which examines drug production, trafficking and consumption worldwide, says counties around the world must stick to internationally-agreed conventions on illegal substances.

“The Board is deeply concerned about the recent developments in Central America, in particular the high-level call in some countries to pursue legalization of illicit drugs, on the assumption that decriminalization of trafficking would reduce drug-related violence,” it says.

Uruguay’s moves to legalize the production and sale of cannabis are singled out for specific criticism, with the report stating, “If adopted, the law could be in contravention of the international drug conventions to which Uruguay is a party.”

Opening the report, head of the board Raymond Yans stressed the need for “shared responsibility” among world governments. People who believe legalization could solve the problems associated with illicit drug markets are wrong, he argued. “Even if such initiatives were implemented, organized criminal groups would get even more deeply involved, for instance by creating a black market for the illicit supply of newly-legalized drugs to young people.”

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The last two years have seen significant developments in the global debate on drug policy, with Latin American leaders spearheading calls to rethink global prohibition, and taking legalization meaures in their own countries. Guatemalan President Otto Perez began openly advocating legalization of drug production and consumption after taking office in January last year, and in October Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala delivered a statement to the UN calling for an “urgent” review of the international community’s approach.

With this report the INCB has sent a clear message that it sees no room for manoeuvre regarding illegal narcotics and the conventions that have governed their prohibition for decades.

The UN General Assembly has, however, voted in favor of a proposal put forward by Latin American nations to hold a special session to discuss alternatives in global drug policy — though this debate is not scheduled to take place until 2016. As pro-legalization momentum continues to grow across the region, Latin America looks set to see itself more and more at odds with the UN in the meantime.

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