Rethinking US Drug Policy

Report Summary

This report, published in February 2011, was a joint effort of the Inter-American Dialogue and the Beckley Foundation.

US citizens today are clearly unhappy with their government’s anti-drug policies. In fact, a majority of Americans now believe that their forty year “war on drugs” has failed. Yet, despite the costs and growing opposition to US anti-narcotics strategy across Latin America, the US debate on drug policy remains muted. Indeed, there is hardly any debate at all in Washington over the US approach to illicit drugs, in part because there are no viable alternatives.

Recent Congressional initiatives to review US anti-drug strategy suggest that lawmakers recognize the need to re-think current policies. Meanwhile, in Latin America, distrust of US policy toward drugs continues to grow. A highly regarded report released in 2009 by a commission headed by three of the  region’s most respected former presidents called for an open-minded search for alternative policy options that could reduce the damage of drug trafficking and abuse.

To encourage debate on the issues and the search for alternative approaches, the Inter-American Dialogue launched its drug policy project in 2009. This report is one of the critical products of that initiative. It offers six proposals to set the stage for a thorough rethinking of the US and global approach toward illicit drugs.

We would like to thank the Open Society Institute and Alvar-Alice Foundation for their valuable support of the Dialogue’s work on drug policy. We also want to thank Peter Reuter and Eduardo Posada Carbó, authors of background papers commissioned for this project.