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Pike, Brigid (2011) In brief. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 37, Spring 2011, p. 29.

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In the last four years35,000 people have been killed in Mexico as drug gangs fight to gain control of the cocaine and marijuana traffic into the United States. Mexico is not alone. Other Latin American and Caribbean countries are also experiencing high levels of delinquency, violence, and corruption fuelled by illegal drugs; in some countries, democratic stability is threatened.  

This issue of In brief reports on the work of three groups of citizens from Latin American countries, and also the US, Europe and Pakistan, who have come together to look for solutions. These citizens include former politicians and public servants, business and commercial leaders, representatives from the NGO sector, and writers and public intellectuals.
While Latin America is the major global exporter of cocaine and cannabis, the main markets for these drugs are in the US and Europe. These citizen groups are calling for an open and far-reaching public debate on how regions of the world can work together to design and implement policies that reduce both the supply and the demand for illicit drugs, rather than focusing just on the problems arising within their own jurisdictions.
In 2009 the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy,convened by former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, published a 41-page report Drugs & democracy: toward a paradigm shift. The authors point out that prohibition, comprising (1) eradicating production, (2) disrupting drug flows and (3) criminalising consumption, has not yielded the expected results. While the EU’s policy of focusing on the reduction of the damages caused by drugs as a matter of public health has proved ‘more humane and efficient’, the authors suggest that by not emphasising the reduction of domestic consumption, the EU has failed to curb the demand for illicit drugs that stimulates their production and exportation from other parts of the world.
The Latin American Commission proposes a new paradigm based on the following three principles.
1.     Treat drug users as a matter of public health – changing their status from ‘drug buyers’ in the illegal market to that of patients cared for in the public health system should help to undermine the economic foundations of the illegal drugs trade.
2.     Reduce drug consumption – through developing information, education and prevention campaigns that can be understood and accepted by young people, who account for the largest contingent of users. The authors point to the success of information and prevention campaigns to reduce tobacco consumption, which were based on clear language and arguments consistent with the experience of those being targeted.
3.     Focus repression on organised crime – target the most harmful effects of organised crime on society, and combine eradication efforts with properly financed alternative development programs adapted to local realities in terms of viable products and conditions for their competitive access to markets.
In February 2011 the Inter-American Dialogue, supported by the UK-based Beckley Foundation, released a 24-page report Rethinking US drug policy. Endorsing the work of the Latin American Commission, this report asserts that, on the supply side, the damage caused by the production and trade in illegal drugs, combined with the increasingly well-documented collateral damage from anti-drug efforts, has now extended throughout the Americas. On the demand side, the authors comment that no existing policy option offers a solution to the problem of drug consumption. According to the authors, many advocates of harm reduction admit that while harm reduction may diminish the damage that drugs and anti-drugs measures do to individuals and their families, to communities and nations, such interventions may also lead to higher rates of consumption.
The authors argue that because the US exerts such an enormous influence on global drug policy worldwide, changes in US laws and policies could profoundly affect the approaches of other governments and multilateral institutions. They call for the following actions.
1.     Support recent Congressional initiatives to establish House and Senate commissions to review US anti-drug strategies and develop alternative approaches.
2.     Join with other nations to organise an inter-governmental task force on narcotics strategy that would review and appraise global drug policies.
3.     Revise outdated UN treaties that underpin the international narcotics regime.
4.     Expand data collection, analysis, and research on multiple aspects of drug problems and the policies and programs designed to address them.
5.     Identify and scale up successful drug programs that promise to reduce drug addiction and the health risks to addicts, increase the prospects of rehabilitation, and decrease drug-related crime.
In January 2011 the Global Commission on Drug Policy was established, including representatives from Latin America, the US, Europe and Pakistan. Building on the work of the Latin American Commission, its goals are to review the assumptions, effectiveness and consequences of the ‘war on drugs’ approach, evaluate the risks and benefits of different national responses to the drug problem, and develop actionable, evidence-based recommendations for constructive legal and drug policy reform.  
Six background papers have been prepared covering the Commission’s main areas of inquiry and substantive engagement:
1.     The current international drug control regime
2.     A global overview of drug policies and laws
3.     The production and supply chain
4.     Criminal justice challenges
5.     Demand reduction, including prevention, harm reduction and treatment
6.     Drug trade and organised crime, and the economic and political impacts of these activities.
Chaired by ex-Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, with George Schulz, former US Secretary of State, as Honorary Chair, the Commission includes the former presidents of Mexico and Colombia, Ernesto Zedillo and Cesar Gaviria; ex-EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana; former Norwegian minister and international negotiator, Thorvald Stoltenberg; former President of Switzerland and Minister of Home Affairs, Ruth Dreifuss; former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Switzerland,Maria Cattaui; former State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Health, Germany,Marion Caspers-Merk; Greek prime minister, George Papandreou; former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve,Paul Volcker; human rights activist and former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Executions, Pakistan, Asma Jahangir; executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Michel Kazatchkine; John Whitehead, banker, civil servant and chair of the World Trade Center Memorial; Virgin chief Richard Branson; and writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa.  www.globalcommissionondrugs.org   
(Compiled by Brigid Pike)
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 37, Spring 2011
Page Range
p. 29
Health Research Board
Issue 37, Spring 2011
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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