Feb 15, 2012

Drug Policy Debate: Drug prohibition follows the logic of the past

La Jornada: "To close one's self inflexibly to changing the strategy of total prohibition of drugs, and the exclusive use of force against the violence generated by organized crime, makes it impossible to have a healthier and safer society and reduce the use of illicit substances, warned specialists involved in the international forum, "Drugs: An Assessment of a Century of Prohibition," which took place at the Jaime Torres Bodet Auditorium of the National Museum of Anthropology.

Ethan Nadelman, American scientist and director of Drug Policy Alliance, Jorge Hernandez, a political scientist and international expert from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Donald McPherson, the leader of the Supervised Injection Facility (InSite), a center that monitors the implementation of injections of addicts, based in Vancouver, Canada, warned that closure to change impedes a country like Mexico from being linked successfully to the processes of globalization, since prohibition is the logic of the past.

Also, Luis Astorga, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM),  said that the federal government's punitive strategy against organized crime has failed. The speakers agreed that, to a large extent, the violence in the country has to do with poor enforcement of total prohibition, so they presented "a brave alternative that begins to approach the polar opposites, i.e., the positions of those who bet on maintaining the ban on all drugs and those proposing total legalization.

Nadelman and McPherson spoke of experiences that have allowed the United States and Canada to gain better management of those addicted to drugs like marijuana and heroin, while at the same time reducing rates of violence and the spread of diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS.

According to Luis Astorga, the legal regulation of drugs and their markets is a necessary but not sufficient step to solve the challenges Mexico faces in this area. He said that there is no proven link between drugs and violence. The latter, if anything, is more associated with drug traffic routes than to consumer habits, counter to what was stated in the opening by Margarita Zavala, wife of President Felipe Calderon. An example, Jorge Hernandez said, is the state of Hidalgo, which has a high rate of consumption with little violence, while in Guerrero, with lower consumption, rates of violence are significantly higher.

For his part, McPherson believes that the alternative of legally regulating the use of some drugs not only takes the market away from criminal organizations, but allows control over consumers. "People know it, politicians know, the police know, but nobody does anything," he said. He stressed that the regulation of drug use is "an innovative solution to a social problem, a proposal that is efficient, effective, sustainable and just that directly addresses a social problem."

In the afternoon, the relationship between drugs and violence was addressed. Luis Astorga said that as part of the country's political reconfiguration, all parties, alone or in coalition, hold positions of power and have three choices for dealing with the gangs of traffickers that increasingly tend to use paramilitary, mafia-type strategies: 1) create a common front to enforce the law, which would imply the creation of a state security policy in which all take responsibility and join forces, 2) establish strategic relationships of mutual benefit between ruling political groups and criminal organizations, or 3) do nothing and let the criminal organizations impose their rules.

"The last two options imply consolidation of authoritarian relationships and corruption to the detriment of society. There are no democratic criminal organizations, nor are there immediate solutions to turn Mexico into a strong democracy, to withdraw the armed forces or legalize currently prohibited drugs. This does not mean inaction or abandonment of these aspirations," he said.

He proposed "exploiting loopholes in the international drug conventions of the United Nations (UN) and trying to change them through the pressure of well-informed civil society organizations on the Mexican government to exercise intelligent and daring diplomacy, in collaboration with countries which are less orthodox regarding matters of drugs and with the Global Commission on Drug Policy, both of which have shown a willingness to help change the international prohibition regime."" Spanish original 

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