President of Guatemala Breaks New Ground by Proposing Legal Regulation of Drugs on Eve of Today's Speech at United Nations General Assembly
Proposal Bolsters Opposition to Drug War Among Latin American Leaders as Drug Prohibition Debate Continues to Escalate
Yesterday, the president of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, announced his intention to propose legally regulating currently-illicit drugs as a means of reducing crime, violence and corruption. He is expected to elaborate on his proposal today when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly.
According to the Associated Press, President Perez Molina said the war on drugs has failed and that Central American nations have no choice but to pursue legalization, since the U.S. has proven incapable of reducing its demand for drugs. Perez Molina's speech today may be the first time a sitting head of state discusses the legalization and regulation of drugs before the UN General Assembly.
The president's statement adds to the growing debate about alternatives to the drug war throughout Latin America. Both former and current heads of state in the region are demanding that the full range of policy options be expanded to include alternatives that help to reduce the prohibition-related crime, violence, and corruption in their own countries - and insisting that decriminalization and legal regulation of currently illicit drug markets be considered.
President Perez Molina first garnered worldwide attention in February by calling for a debate on alternatives to the war on drugs, including decriminalization and regulation. His proposal quickly received support from other leaders in Latin America, including the presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica and Ecuador. Over the next few months, the failure of the war on drugs and alternatives to current strategies were discussed at significant high-level events, including the Summit of the Americas in Colombia. Most recently, Uruguay announced a plan to legalize marijuana, with a regulatory system that would make it the first country in the world where the state sells the drug directly to its citizens.
Even President Obama was obliged to acknowledge the legitimacy of the debate earlier this year during the Summit of the Americas - where opposition to drug prohibition was a major focus - when he said, "it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are doing more harm than good." The Organization of American States is conducting a study of legalization and regulation and will be releasing a report of its findings next year.
In Latin America, where the war on drugs has caused high levels of violence, death and corruption, many see this debate is an important step toward improving the region's economy, security and quality of life.
Statement from Daniel Robelo of the Drug Policy Alliance:
"We support President Otto Perez Molina's call for a fundamental transformation of global drug policy that shifts away from the failed prohibition regime and toward legal regulation of currently-illicit drugs.
"President Perez Molina's bold leadership before the General Assembly adds to a growing chorus of current heads of state in the region speaking out against the flawed drug war strategies imposed by the U.S. government for the past forty years that have devastated the region while utterly failing to reduce drug use or supply.
"These leaders recognize that to change the status quo, they must combine decisive leadership at the national level with coordinated action at the international level. Led by President Perez Molina, they are opening up a serious global debate at the highest levels - and ensuring that all drug control options, including various types and degrees of decriminalization and legal regulation, be put on the table in that debate.
"Regulating drugs has the potential to shrink or eliminate illegal drug markets, thereby reducing the power of violent traffickers. In the short term, Latin America and the U.S. can take three specific policy steps in that direction: the full decriminalization of drug possession for personal use; the legal regulation of marijuana, more or less like alcohol; and the provision of legal access to pharmaceutical versions of other illicit drugs for those consumers who are determined to obtain the drugs they need or want regardless of their legal status.
"In this way, we can ensure that U.S. drug policies do not enrich violent criminal organizations throughout Latin America - while improving public health and safety in streets and communities across the U.S."