Category Archives: War on Drugs

Davos 2013: President Pérez Molina announces drug policy initiatives

The President used his platform at the World Economic Forum to announce the proposals for drug policy reform presented to him by Beckley Foundation director Amanda Feilding last week – including drug regulation and the creation of a legal poppy crop. He also announced the plans we have been working on together to hold a drug policy summit later this year.

President Pérez Molina became the first Guatemalan leader to address the World Economic Forum when he spoke at a press conference and a drug policy debate in Davos this week. The President was invited to Davos to debate whether the current policy of ‘war on drugs’ is working.

In the debate it was pointed out that over 25 years, the US has not reduced consumption, but has put millions of people in prison. Over that time, the price for heroin and cocaine has fallen 75%. Furthermore, Latin American countries have been forced to fight an impossible war against organized crime, leading to violence, death, and corruption.

Among the planned reforms announced by the President is the conversion of the currently illegal poppy crop into a legal crop for the production of opioid medicines such as morphine. Like many developing countries, Guatemala suffers from a severe shortage of opioids – and it also has an existing population of farmers who rely on the poppy for their subsistence.

The poppy proposal, and the plans Pérez Molina announced for the creation of regulated markets, were presented to the President by Amanda when she visited him last week in advance of the Davos forum.

At Davos, the President also announced a proposal, developed together with the Beckley Foundation, to hold a global drug policy summit in Tikkal, Guatemala later this year. It will gather together Latin American leaders and a selected group of global business figures in order to build consensus and collaborations around options for drug policy reform.

George Soros, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist, joined President Pérez Molina for the announcement. He pledged the full support of himself and his Foundation to the summit.

“Prohibition, this war on drugs, has seen cartels grow and the results are not what we looked for,”  Pérez Molina said. “There is a new trend towards drugs now – not war, but a new perspective and a different way of dealing with the problem.”

George Soros added, “I have a strong conviction that the current approach is doing more harm than good, and it has endangered more political stability in a lot of countries. That we need to change.”

Photo credit: Prensa Libre


Guardian George Soros backs Guatemalan president’s call to end war on drugs

Guardian Davos 2013: day one – as it happened

BBC Davos 2013: Soros calls for new strategy on drugs

WSJ Soros Calls for Rethink on Drug Policy

Huffington Post Laura Chinchilla Marijuana Talks: Costa Rica, Mexico, And Colombia Preparing For U.S. Pot Legalization

Insight Crime: Guatemala President Claims Drug Reform Would Cut Violence in Half

Siglo21 (Español): Pérez convoca cumbre para regularizar drogas

Prensa Libre (Español) Otto Pérez Molina retoma impulso a regulación de droga

El Periodico (Español) Guatemala promueve en Davos la regulación de la droga

Guatemala’s president: ‘My country bears the scars from the war on drugs’

President Otto Pérez Molina was interviewed in the Observer newspaper this weekend, where he discussed the failure of the War on Drugs, and the need for leaders of drug-consuming countries to take responsibility for the terrible toll it exacts in his country and throughout Latin America.

The President discussed the valuable role played by the Beckley Foundation in advising the government on drug policy, particularly the proposals our director, Amanda Feilding, presented to him last week:

“[The Beckley Foundation] enables us to demonstrate that the struggle that has been conducted for these last 40 years has failed. With scientific data it can be demonstrated that, by placing the emphasis on health, on preventive programmes, on educational programmes, regulation is an alternative that could enable us to avoid more deaths, more destruction and more crime, such as we have had until now.”

The Observer published two additional articles to accompany the interview. The first explains how Central American countries have in recent years become major trafficking routes for drugs destined for the USA, as enforcement efforts have succeeded in disrupting traffic by sea and air – a  classic case of enforcement in one area displacing criminal activity to elsewhere. The second details the wider effects of the War on Drugs throughout Latin America.

To Latin American leaders, the need to search for an alternative to the current paradigm is obvious. Drugs prohibition has allowed rich and powerful cartels to rise to such prominence in their countries that they threaten the institutions of the state – the police, the judicial system, the army, the media, and the political system itself.

President Pérez Molina was the first incumbent head of state to sign the Beckley Foundation Public Letter calling for a new approach to drug policy; President Santos of Colombia has now also signed. The UN General Assembly last year was witness to previously-unthinkable rebellion from Latin American Heads of State, who issued declarations criticising the current prohibitionist regime and pushing for open discussion of alternative drug policies.

This is a far distance removed from the effects of the war on drugs in consumer nations, where the drugs debate is narrowly confined to discussions about improving treatment and reducing criminality. An example is David Cameron’s claim, in response to the four recent reports calling for a radical rethink, that current UK drug policy is working – which he typically supports with statistics showing a small decrease in numbers of people using drugs in the UK.

As the respected Colombian journalist Fidel Cano Correa discussed in the Observer at the time, this attitude is one of wilful neglect towards the international repercussions of drug policy. For every person using cocaine in Britain, there is a trail of violence, destruction, and terror leading all the way back to the fields it is grown in.

The unwillingness of consumer countries to take responsibility for the consequences of the current prohibitionist approach is something President Pérez Molina hopes to address when he takes the debate on drug policy reform to the Davos World Economic Forum this week.


Guatemala’s president: ‘My country bears the scars from the war on drugs’

Central America’s tiny states caught in deadly crossfire of battle with cartels

Call off war on drugs, leader of Guatemala tells the west

Photograph courtesy of The Observer/Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

In Colombia, Cameron’s stance on drugs looks cynical

Fidel Cano Correa, respected Colombian journalist and editor of the Colombian daily ‘el Espectador’ mentioned the Beckley Foundation as one organisation pushing for global change in an Observer piece this weekend, and criticises David Cameron for neglecting the international consequences of his domestic drug policy.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy, led by former presidents Gaviria of Colombia, Zedillo of Mexico, and Cardoso of Brazil as well as Clinton and Carter of the US, has joined the Beckley Foundation in the UK and Colombian and Guatemalan presidents Juan Manuel Santos and Otto Perez Molina in asking world leaders to support the exploration of more effective options to control the demand and supply of illegal drugs and minimise violence. Where is Great Britain in this debate? Will Cameron let his country be left to one side as major shifts in political and public opinion swirl around his nation?”

David Cameron’s defence of the current policy is that it is ‘actually working in Britain’, but he neglects the fact that the policy is not working in the world. While western nations consume most of the drugs, the ‘savage violence that very nearly destroys a country’s civil and legal institutions is kept far from their citizens’

As Correa puts it, “Votes assured in the UK, the problem kept far away”.

Read the Beckley Foundation Public Letter calling for a new approach to global drug policy, signed by members of the Global Commission and Presidents Santos and Molina of Colombia and Guatemala, at

Fidel Cano Correa, the Observer 16th December: ‘In Colombia, Cameron’s stance on drugs looks cynical’ 

Breaking the Taboo UK premiere features on Guardian, Mirror and Daily Mail websites

Last night saw the launch in London of the new campaign, Breaking the Taboo, that the Beckley Foundation has developed in association with the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Virgin Unite, Avaaz and Sundog Pictures. The launch event included a screening of the new documentary film “Breaking the Taboo,” narrated by Morgan Freeman and directed by Cosmo Feilding Mellen. The screening was followed by a panel discussion chaired by Krishnan Guru-Murthy, between the Beckley Foundation’s Director Amanda Feilding, Virgin boss Richard Branson, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Tom Lloyd and Danny Kushlick (all signatories of the Beckley Foundation Public Letter).

The event was attended by various interested parties, journalists and celebrities, including Natalie Imbruglia and Jack Whitehall, and covered online by the Guardian, Mirror and Daily Mail newspapers:


The film is narrated by Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman and also features former US president Jimmy Carter as well as former Swiss, Brazilian and Colombian presidents. Sundog has joined with academic thinktank the Beckley Foundation and online movement Avaaz to run a petition, with a target of one million signatures, calling for change to global policy on drugs prohibition, to be presented to the UN in January.

Full article →

Daily Mail

Produced through the Sam’s production company, Sundog Pictures, and narrated by Hollywood stalwart Morgan Freeman the documentary has some heavyweight backing, from former US president Bill Clinton to singer Natalie Imbruglia.

Speaking to The Guardian, Richard said: ‘I am hoping in the same way that Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth opened people’s eyes to global warming issues, [Breaking the Taboo] will open people’s eyes on the war on drugs and the failed war on drugs and make it easier for people who want to be brave and do something about it.’

Full article →


Sir Richard, 62, said addicts needed help not prison.

Speaking at the premiere of documentary movie Breaking the Taboo in London last night, he said: “The war on drugs has been a failure.

“As a businessman, if you’ve got a failed business for two or three years you change course, you don’t just carry on.

“The consequences of this failed war have been tens of thousands of deaths, 300 million dollars a year going into the underworld, and hundreds of thousands of people being put into prison or even executed for taking drugs.”

Full article →

The campaign launch will continue with another film screening at Google headquarters in New York this evening. Join us on twitter, @BeckleyDrugs, by searching for #breakthetaboo to follow the event.

If you want to learn more visit the campaign website, where you can watch a trailer for the film and sign the petition for global drug policy reform.

The film will be available on YouTube (and on from 7th December .

Amanda Feilding and upcoming Beckley Foundation campaign featured in the Observer

Amanda Feilding and the Beckley Foundation were featured in the Observer newspaper this weekend:

“The proud owner of a country estate and an aristocratic title, Amanda Feilding, Countess of Wemyss and March, might seem an unlikely campaigner for the reform of laws criminalising recreational drugs. But no one can say she hasn’t put the hours in.

For the past 15 years, as part of the Beckley Foundation, which she set up in 1989, Feilding has hosted seminars, promoted research and lobbied the powerful in the name of legalisation.

On 5 December, she will oversee the launch of a new global initiative to deal with what she tells the Observer is “the real danger to society” – a counterproductive war on drugs that allows a deadly criminal culture to thrive across the globe.”

The interview focuses on our new Breaking the Taboo campaign, a global grass-roots initiative for drug policy reform running in association with Virgin Unite, Avaaz, Sundog Pictures and the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

The Campaign website and a new documentary, Breaking the Taboo will be launched on 5 December in London and 6 December in New York, at Google’s headquarters in each city. Watch this space for further details.

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The Deceptive Gains of the War on Drugs

August 6, 2012

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By Robert Valencia

Recently, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, shared what he considered great news: According to numbers from the White House, potential cocaine production in Colombia had dropped by 72 percent since 2001. This ranks the country third in production of the substance, behind neighbors Peru and Bolivia. During a conference in Washington DC on July 30, 2012, Kerlikowske explained that potential production of pure cocaine in Colombia was “down to 195 metric tons (in 2011) from 700 metrics tons in 2001,” the lowest production level since 1994. He underscored that since 1995, Colombia has been producing “less cocaine” than Peru and Bolivia.

While Kerlikowske praises Colombia’s efforts to reduce drug production and recognizes the challenge the Mexican cartels pose, there’s one point he misses. So long as there is a high demand for drugs in the United States or elsewhere, it makes little to no difference which country holds the position of top coca producer.

During the same conference, the Director also praised Plan Colombia, the multi-billion dollar U.S.-backed effort that has helped four administrations (from the Andrés Pastrana to Alvaro Uribe’s two terms to the current Santos era) crackdown on both guerrilla and drug cartel. He claimed that these unprecedented results are a milestone in the fight against drugs in the Western Hemisphere.  Once these results were made public, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and his administration corroborated the decline in drug production, citing the successful strategy of tackling funding sources for drug traffickers.

It is indisputable that Plan Colombia has helped overhaul Colombia’s military buildup, and in turn, diminished guerrilla- and drug-related antics. However, the Santos administration also recognized during the Summit of the Americas that the shift in drug production and trafficking was similar to a “balloon effect”: when a latex balloon is squeezed in one side the air shifts to the other, but no air escapes. In this case, Plan Colombia has helped “squeeze” drug trafficking, with production and alternate routes shifting to other South and Central American countries. A few reported “balloon effects” include the movement of former members of the Colombian Norte del Valle cartel to Bolivia, alleged connections of Mexican drug cartels working with factions of Peru’s Shining Path to ship cocaine from the Peruvian highlands to the Pacific, and the transportation of cocaine from Argentina to Europe.

Though Kerlikowske’s message on drug policy is optimistic, its results seem contradictory to other official reports.  According to a United Nations report published last June, cocaine crops increased in Colombia for the first time in five years. Yet both the U.S. administration and the United Nations agree—in broad terms—that cocaine production is falling in Colombia and on the rise in Peru and Bolivia.  Kerlikowske also claims that there’s a significant amount of international solidarity on cutting the supply of drugs and reducing its demand. Meanwhile Kerlikowske also admits that in the last couple of years Latin American leaders whose administrations grapple with drug-related violence are mulling over the possibility of drug legalization—a policy the U.S. administration is reluctant to adopt.

A day before Kerlikowske’s remarks, Uruguay unveiled a plan to regulate and legalize marijuana—joining the ranks of Guatemala’s President Otto Pérez Molina, and top politicians in Colombia, Belize, and Mexico who have also called for an overt discussion in relaxing draconian drug laws during the Summit of the Americas. Argentina, Costa Rica, and Ecuador have blamed the United States for the bloodbath on the U.S.-Mexico border, which they say stems from the prohibitionist strategies known as the “War on Drugs,” launched by the Nixon administration 41 years ago.

Kerlikowske argues that this type of public discourse “thrives on the simplicity of sound bites.” Nevertheless, more leaders are singing from the same hymnbook. Former presidents Henrique Cardozo from Brazil, Colombia’s Cesar Gaviria Trujillo, and Mexico’s Ernesto Zedillo, have joined the Global Commission on Drug Policy in an attempt to reevaluate the current, and not so successful approach on the drug war.

The same White House numbers indicate that, in the past three years, $31 billion has been invested to support drug education and treatment programs both nationally and internationally and nearly $1 billion to alternative development. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, interdiction efforts make up the lion’s share of the budget (79 percent), compared to treatment (39 percent), prevention (31 percent), domestic law enforcement (33 percent) and international cooperation (35 percent).

Unfortunately, the United States is oblivious that the War on Drugs is also a human rights matter. The U.S. involvement in the international cooperation has been mired with controversy after American and Honduran forces killed villagers on a Honduran river in April 2012 during a drug smuggler raid. Despite the incident, the United States remains adamant in preserving its drug policy measures, which have only fueled more animosity across Latin America. The Global Commission on Drug Policy also claims that HIV transmission—another human rights and a public health challenge—and other life-threatening ailments, are exacerbated by the ongoing criminalization of drug use. These organizations argue that for fear of being arrested, drug users shy away from health services and share dirty needles.

One valuable thesis Kerlikowske proposed was that the world must unite in pursuing drug policies that are balanced, realistic, and focused on public health and safety. But as long as there is a high demand for illicit substances—be it stateside or abroad—and the United States disregards drug trafficking as a global commodities market and a threat to human rights, it truly does not make a difference who hands over the nefarious top spot in worldwide coca production. As the United States keeps turning a blind eye to reexamining its draconian drug laws, the dissonance between Latin American leaders and the U.S. administration on this policy will continue. Not only does this pose as a great obstacle for true cooperation, it also puts the effectiveness of rehabilitation and prevention programs at peril.

Robert Valencia is a Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs and is a contributing writer for Global Voices. He also has a personal blog called My Humble Opinion.

Obama’s Drug Czar Is Either a Liar, or Ignorant of What the DEA Is Doing

 July 2012

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Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske continues to obfuscate the Obama administration’s participation in the war on drugs. At a speech before the Center for Strategic & International Studies, Kerlikowske said “it’s a mistake to call it a ‘war on drugs’ because it lends itself to a simplistic solution to what we all know is a very complex problem.”

Students for Sensible Drug Policy had a staffer at the event. Devon Tackels pointed out that the U.S. still arrests 1.5 million people a year for drug-related crimes, which suggests that the war on drugs is still very much a war.

Kerlikowske’s response was this: “Most of the law enforcement in the United States on drugs is done on the state and local level, it’s clearly not done by the federal level.”

“Clearly not done by the federal level”? The raids conducted earlier this year on headshop owners in Idaho–during which a screaming toddler was taken out of his crib and a young girl was handcuffed–were ordered by U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson (an Obama appointee) and led by the DEA and the U.S. Marshalls Service.

For the last week, the DEA has been crowing about “Operation Log Jam,” which saw federal agents conduct destructive, armed raids across the country on shops suspected of selling synthetic marijuana. The agents who conducted those raids wore paramilitary gear; busted down doors of homes and stores; seized assets; pointed guns.

Recently, DEA agents paid a Texas truck driver to secretly haul marijuana from Mexico to the U.S. That truck driver was killed, and his rig was practically destroyed. (Local cops ended up shooting each other by accident, to boot.)

And what about Daniel Chong, the California college student left in a DEA holding cell without food or water for five days?

And those are just the domestic stories. The DEA is killing people in Honduras, Mexico, Afghanistan, and now parts of Africa. That’s war.




AIDS doctors join international chorus targeting the ‘war on drugs’

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Two prominent Canadian doctors have joined an international campaign calling on world leaders to stop the spread of AIDS by ending the so called war on drugs.

Their advertising campaign is being launched today and is endorsed by supporters of the 2010 Vienna Declaration, which urges governments to write evidence-based drug policies.

The campaign has a specific message for U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, “You can’t end AIDS unless you end the war on drugs. It’s dead simple.”

Among those asking world leaders to show “leadership,” “courage” and “to do the right thing” are British billionaire Richard Branson, the former presidents of Brazil and Colombia, and B.C. based AIDS specialists doctors, Evan Wood and Julio Montaner.

The campaign is being launched as delegates meet this week at a major international AIDS conference in Washington.

“I think people are really starting to question the war on drugs,” said Wood, lead researcher at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and chair of the Vienna Declaration.

“I think globally we’re seeing a real shift in terms of public opinion and a recognition that addiction should be treated more as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.”

Wood said that while HIV infection rates are falling around the globe, the number of cases appears to be rising in countries with aggressive policies for prosecuting drug related crimes.

He argues the war on drugs actually helps spread HIV in several ways.

It often forces addicts into hiding and out of the reach of health officials who can help protect them from the terrible dangers posed by intravenous drug use, he said.

The data clearly shows, he added, that the HIV virus is spreading among prison inmates who mainline drugs.

Injection drug use accounts for one-third of new HIV infections outside of sub-Saharan Africa, according to the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy.

The centres estimate there are currently 34 million people worldwide living with HIV.

So far, the war on drugs has cost the U.S. economy more than $1 trillion, and each case of AIDS can cost the Canadian taxpayer about $500,000 in medical costs, Wood said.

When asked how successful the new campaign is likely to be in convincing American political leaders, Wood noted that economic times are tough and some states are now spending more money on incarceration than on education.

He said three U.S. states will also ask voters during the November’s presidential elections to cast ballots on the taxation and regulation of marijuana.

Wood said copies of the Vienna Declaration, signed by more than 23,400 people since 2010, will be delivered to world leaders, including Obama, Romney and the secretary general of the United Nations.

In Ottawa, the office of federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq defended its efforts to battle HIV/AIDS.

“Our government is committed to addressing HIV/AIDS in Canada and is providing record amounts of funding to support research, vaccine development, public awareness, prevention, treatment, and support,” the Health Ministry said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

Discussions about law enforcement and drugs, including such issues as mandatory minimum prison sentences and the decriminalization of marijuana, have been active across Canada in recent months.

At the Summit of the Americas in April, Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested he was open to discussing the war on drugs.

“I think what everyone believes and agrees with, and to be frank myself, is that the current approach is not working, but it is not clear what we should do,” he told reporters.

This spring eight B.C. mayors wrote to provincial party leaders calling for regulation and taxation of marijuana.

In March, the chief health officers for British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia published a commentary, calling on the Harper government to rethink its mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug-related offences.

Federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair has said he doesn’t believe anyone should go to jail for possessing a small amount of marijuana, and interim Liberal leader Bob Rae has called Harper’s drug policy “a failed policy, a jail policy.”

In February, four former B.C. attorneys general said marijuana prohibition was fuelling gang wars and clogging the courts.

Joining the chorus were 28 current and former law-enforcement officials from the U.S., who are members of the group, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

They warned Canadian parliamentarians about mandatory-minimum sentencing laws for minor drug offences, calling the laws “costly failures.”

Besides ending the war on drugs, Wood said he’d also like to see a transparent review of the effectiveness of drug policies.

“The government has been collecting years of statistics on drug price and purity and rates of use,” he said. “If you actually sit down and look at the government’s own data it shows that this policy has been an astronomical failure.”


Rise in Pill Abuse Forces New Look at U.S. Drug Fight


MEXICO CITY — America’s drug problem is shifting from illicit substances like cocaine to abuse of prescription painkillers, a change that is forcing policy makers to re-examine the long and expensive strategy of trying to stop illegal drugs from entering the United States.

This rethinking extends beyond the United States, where policy makers are debating how to better reduce demand for painkillers. The effects would also be felt here and in Central America: With the drug wars in Mexico inflaming violence, some argue that the money now used for interdiction could be better spent building up the institutions — especially courts and prosecutors’ offices — that would lead to long-term stability in Mexico and elsewhere.

“The policies the United States has had for the last 41 years have become irrelevant,” said Morris Panner, a former counternarcotics prosecutor in New York and at the American Embassy in Colombia, who is now an adviser at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “The United States was worried about shipments of cocaine and heroin for years, but whether those policies worked or not doesn’t matter because they are now worried about Americans using prescription drugs.”

The same sense that there is a need for a new approach was expressed last week by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a former federal prosecutor, who declared the war on drugs “a failure” that imprisons people who really need treatment.

While a major change in policy is not imminent — “It’s all aircraft carriers, none of it moves on a dime,” as one senior Obama administration official put it — the election of a new president in Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, is very likely to have an immediate impact on the debate. Mr. Peña Nieto has promised to focus not on drugs but rather on reducing the violent crimes that most affect Mexicans.

Mexico and other countries nearby, especially Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, are withering under a metastasizing threat: violence caused by drug traffickers battling for power, to move drugs, extort businesses, and kidnap and kill for ransom. The American response so far has mostly involved a familiar escalation of force, characterized by the addition of law enforcement and military equipment and personnel to help governments too weak to combat trafficking on their own.

But in Mexico, a focus of American antidrug efforts in recent years, a shift in priorities is already apparent. Since 2010, programs for building the rule of law and stronger communities have become the largest items in the State Department’s antidrug budget, with the bulk of the money assigned to Mexico. That amounts to a reversal from 2008 and 2009, when 70 percent was allocated to border security and heavy equipment like helicopters.

Even some officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration and Justice Department say they now recognize that arresting kingpins and seizing large drug shipments have failed to make Mexico more stable, largely because of corruption and other flaws in the Mexican justice system.

American officials say they are now focused on training Mexican prison guards, prosecutors and judges, while supporting Mexican programs aimed at keeping at-risk youths from joining gangs.

“We see crime as the leading threat in some countries to economic growth and the leading threat to democracy,” said Mark Feierstein, the United States Agency for International Development assistant administrator for Latin American and the Caribbean.

Still, law enforcement remains a major element of the government’s strategy, as the deployment of a commando-style squad of D.E.A. agents in Honduras has demonstrated. And the Obama administration has ruled out drug legalization, despite expanding support for the idea in Latin America, while designating about 60 percent of the federal antidrug budget of roughly $25 billion a year to supply-side efforts, with 40 percent to demand, as the government has for decades.

Eric L. Olson, a security analyst with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said the growing debate had, so far, mostly led to confusion. “Some U.S. officials favor building institutions; others think it’s hopeless,” he said.

Other experts are more critical of the Obama administration, pointing to the continued focus on cocaine interdiction, especially in Honduras, where the D.E.A. squad has been involved in a series of recent raids. One left four people dead, including two pregnant women, and in another one, last week, two people who were said to be smugglers were killed.

“It just hasn’t worked,” said Mark L. Schneider, a special adviser on Latin America at the International Crisis Group. “All interdiction and law enforcement did was shift cultivation from Colombia to Peru, and the increase in interdiction in the Caribbean drove trafficking to Mexico, and now with the increase in violence there it has driven trafficking to Central America as the first stop. So it is all virtually unchanged.”

What has changed is Americans’ use of cocaine.

The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that an estimated 1.5 million people had used cocaine in the previous month, down from 2 million in 2002 and, according to an earlier government survey, 5.8 million in the mid-1980s. (Methamphetamine use has also fallen in recent years, while heroin use was up somewhat, to 239,000 users in 2010 from 213,000 in 2008.)

Some officials argue the cocaine decline shows that supply-side efforts have worked, but experts note that prices in the United States have held mostly steady since the late 1980s, suggesting the prominent role of a decrease in demand. Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that in the United States, cocaine had simply run its course among aging addicts. “What you’re recording,” he said, “is the rate at which they are dying or quitting.”

Now the drugs most likely to land Americans in emergency rooms cannot be interdicted. Studies show that prescription painkillers, and stimulants to a lesser extent, are the nation’s biggest drug problem. The same survey that identified 1.5 million cocaine users in 2010 found 7 million users of “psychotherapeutics.” Of the 36,450 overdose deaths in the United States in 2008, 20,044 involved a prescription drug, more than all illicit drugs combined.

And whereas cocaine and heroin have been concentrated in big cities, prescription drug abuse has spread nearly everywhere. “Today there is drug use in every county in Ohio, and the problem is worse in rural areas,” said Mike DeWine, the attorney general of Ohio.

“This is an urgent, urgent issue that needs to be addressed promptly,” said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. So far, she said, the response from government and the health care industry has been inadequate.

But momentum for a broader change in domestic drug policy — as in foreign policy — appears to be building. D.E.A. officials say they have recently created 37 “tactical diversion squads” focusing on prescription drug investigations, with 26 more to be added over the next few years.

“Unfortunately,” said Representative Mary Bono Mack, a Republican from California who is co-chairwoman of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, “it’s because more and more members are hearing from back home in their district that people are dying.”

Damien Cave reported from Mexico City, and Michael S. Schmidt from Washington.

The International Drug Control Treaties: How Important Are They to U.S. Drug Reform?

The International Drug Control Treaties: How Important Are They to U.S. Drug Reform?


Missing from US-conducted analyses is a discussion about the international legal system – as embodied in the three international drug control treaties.
July 5, 2012 

The way the world looks at drug control is changing. There has been a growing awareness of the issue for the past decade, as well as increasing public outcry over what many see as a failure of the once popular “war on drugs.”
Nowhere is this battle more pronounced than in the so-called “marijuana wars,” which are slowly growing into an old-fashioned standoff between the states and the federal government. As of June 2012, seventeen states (and the District of Columbia) have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana, several states have introduced initiatives to legalize the use of recreational marijuana, and there are now two proposed federal bills designed to lift the ban on marijuana. The Gallup polls show that at least 70% of Americans support legalizing marijuana for medical use, and over 50% are now in favor of its legalization for recreational use as well.
With so much movement in the area and so much public support, many are asking: Why is the federal government so vehemently resisting the liberalization of a policy that seems to be inevitable? One of President Obama’s campaign promises was to leave the issue of medical marijuana to state governments. Indeed, his Administration first declared a policy of non-enforcement against medical marijuana dispensaries operating in full compliance with state laws. Over the past year, however, the Administration has backtracked, famously going after not only dispensaries, but also landlords, banks, media outlets and all but the sickest of patients taking advantage of the medical marijuana laws.
We tend to think of drug policy in domestic terms, attributing the policy to successive administrations; however, underlying domestic policies are three international treaties, to which the U.S. is signatory, that set strict limitations regarding the treatment of certain drugs within our country. Or do they?
While U.S. authorities are resistant to change in drug policy, more liberal marijuana laws seem to be sprouting up everywhere in countries around the world: Denmark, Spain, the UK, and now Uruguay and Colombia, to name a few. World leaders and former leaders across Europe and most recently, Latin America, have been speaking up in increasing numbers, all saying the same thing:  It’s time for the world to start thinking about legalization.
To better understand how nations set their policies, it is essential to understand the international underpinnings. To this end, the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Drugs & the Law formed a special subcommittee to study the implications of international law on domestic drug policy reform. We travelled to Vienna to attend the yearly sessions of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2011 and 2012, and interviewed current and former diplomats and dignitaries working at the international level of drug control, in order to gain an understanding of the worldwide drug control system and its implications for domestic drug policy.
We found that, while everyone seems to have an opinion on drug reform, many of the legal analyses are limited in scope to domestic factors. Missing from even the most sophisticated analysis conducted in the U.S. is a discussion about the international legal system – as embodied in the three international drug control treaties.  Through our work, we have grown to understand the vast importance of these treaties in the world of international relations, as well as to domestic drug reform.
The International Drug Control Treaties
Americans in general have little awareness that the international drug treaties exist at all, and if they do, they have only vague notions of how the system works. Myths abound when it comes to drug laws in foreign countries – for example, many believe that marijuana is legal in Amsterdam (it’s not), or that the treaties don’t apply to the states (they do). It is clear, then, that any explanation of the system should start with the basics – the international drug control treaties.
The 1961 Single Convention and its Progeny
The 1961Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the 1972 Protocol, forms the basis of the global drug control regime as it exists today, limiting use and possession of opiates, cannabis and cocaine, to “medicinal and scientific purposes.” (Recreational use is not permitted in any form under the Single Convention.) The 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, enacted after an upsurge of drug use in the 1960s, added synthetic, prescription and hallucinogenic drugs to the list. The 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances required member countries, for the first time, to criminalize possession for personal consumption.
Heather J. Haase is an attorney and drug policy reform advocate, and a member of the New York City Bar Association Committee on Drugs & the Law, where she formed and chairs its Special Subcommittee on International Drug Law and Policy. She blogs @ FullCircle US.