Last Friday, the Organization of American States (OAS) gathered in Bogotá, Colombia for the release of its $2 million report, "The Drug Problem in the Americas," which characterized marijuana as a relatively benign drug.
The 400-page study concluded that if the United States was sincere in its desire to reduce drug violence in the western hemisphere, then it would have to seriously rethink its stance on marijuana and look into more rational drug policies:
"It would be worthwhile to assess existing signals and trends that lean toward the decriminalization or legalization of the production, sale, and use of marijuana. Sooner or later decisions in this area will need to be taken."
The discussion is long overdue, according to OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza, and most Latin American leaders - "whose countries suffer the bloody brunt of the largely failed U.S.-led drug war" - agree.
This is not the first time the Obama Administration has been asked by its neighboring governments to consider adopting more lenient marijuana policies in order to help combat the violent drug cartels that plague Latin America. The question was raised at last year's Summit of the Americas.
The response from American officials was typical: making marijuana legal is not an option they will consider.
Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for the White House's drug czar, said in response to the report that "any suggestion that nations legalize drugs like heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine runs counter to an evidenced-based, public health approach to drug policy and are not viable alternatives."
It is hardly "evidence-based" to lump marijuana in with the other drugs mentioned in that statement. Studies have conclusively shown that marijuana is objectively safer than all of them, including legal alcohol. Nor is it in the interest of public health to continue allowing the marijuana industry to be controlled by violent criminal organizations.
Latin America can attest to the fact that this drug war has a real body count. The United States needs to take responsibility for its failed policies and be willing to listen to its neighbors.