Juan Carlos Hidalgo
Last Friday, the Organization of American States released a groundbreaking report on the future of drug policy in the Americas. The OAS received the mandate to produce this document at the Summit of the Americas last year in Cartagena, Colombia, where some presidents aired their frustration with the war on drugs and even suggested legalization as an alternative to fight the cartels.
The document is based on solid premises:
- Drug violence is one of the greatest challenges facing the Americas
- The current approach is a failure isn’t working
- New policy alternatives need to be discussed and implemented
- Drug use will remain significant by 2025
These premises might seem pretty obvious, but when it comes to drug policy, stating the obvious hasn’t been the norm for those who believe in the status quo: for example, in 1988 the UN held an event titled “A drug-free world: we can do it” (consumption of marijuana and cocaine has increased by 50 percent since then). Or the latest National Drug Control Strategy, which claims that the greatest accomplishment of the Mérida Initiative with Mexico has been “the mutual fostering of security, protection and prosperity” (never mind the 60,000 people killed in drug violence in six years in Mexico).
The OAS report avoids recounting this fairy tale. It also avoids making recommendations, given the lack of consensus among its authors about where drug policy should be headed in the next 12 years. Instead, the document lays out four different interpretations of the “drug problem” and presents the scenarios of what the response should be. The report also presents the challenges facing each scenario (name in bold):
Together: Under this scenario, the problem is not drug laws but weak institutions. It foresees greater security and intelligence cooperation among nations, more expenditure in the security and judiciary apparatuses and tougher laws dealing with corruption, gun trafficking and money laundering.
Latin American countries indeed suffer from weak institutions. The shortcoming of this scenario is that prohibition actually exacerbates the problem since it inflates the profit margins of the cartels to stratospheric levels, thus increasing their corrupting and violent power. In 2010 all seven Central American countries combined spent nearly $4 billion in their security and judiciary apparatuses (a 60 percent increase in five years). And yet that fell terribly short of the estimated revenues of the Mexican and Colombian cartels which, according to a report from the Justice Department, could reach up to $39 billion a year.
The report foresees another challenge with this approach: a disparity among countries in their institution-building efforts, which would lead to the balloon effect of criminal activities. This is perhaps the main feature of the drug business in the Americas: its high capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. For example, in the early 1990s, as pressure grew on coca growers in Peru they moved to Colombia. Now, after a decade of eradication programs in that nation, they are moving back to Peru. Overall the Andean region continues to produce the same amount of cocaine as it did 20 years ago.
Over the years the common denominator of the war on drugs in Latin America has been the attempt to export the problem to your neighbor. Greater cooperation, harmonization of efforts, and same-pace institution building seems unrealistic.
Pathways: Under this scenario, the problem isn’t drugs but drug prohibition. It portends a growing number of presidents in the region calling for the adoption of a legal market for certain drugs, starting with cannabis.
Indeed, the future is here. Guatemala’s president, Otto Pérez Molin,a has already called for the legalization of drugs. Uruguay is considering a bill that would legalize marijuana. And even in the United States, Colorado and Washington have legalized the recreational use of cannabis.
Two challenges come to mind under this scenario. First, the discussion on legalization (or regulation, as some prefer), has focused almost exclusively on marijuana. Indeed, the momentum towards a legal market of cannabis seems unstoppable: a recent poll showed that 52 percent of Americans favor legalizing the drug. Moreover, in a recent interview in Colombia’s El Tiempo, William Brownfield, assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, said that legalizing cocaine, heroine, methamphetamine, and synthetic drugs would constitute crossing a “red line” for Washington. Tellingly he didn’t mention marijuana. As Mark Kleinman from UCLA points out, it seems as if the drug warriors in the Obama administration might have decided that “the Battle of Cannabis is lost, and are attempting to fall back to a more defensible position”. However, the problem in the Andean region, Central America, and largely Mexico isn’t marijuana, but cocaine prohibition. And the report, realistically so, foresees tough resistance from public opinion on most countries towards a legalized market for cocaine.
This leads us to the second challenge: some countries will be more enthusiastic in adopting legal frameworks for certain drugs while other will stick to prohibition. Given that narco-traficking is a transnational problem, this would create problems and tensions between governments.
It’s not a secret that the pathway toward legalization will prove a difficult one, especially because of the resistance it faces from public opinion in many Latin American counties. However, only legalization deals with the root of the problem: the black market of drugs that creates enormous profit opportunities for organized crime.
Resilience: Under this scenario, the drug problem is a consequence of a larger social problem related to poor socio-economic conditions at the local level and the lack of jobs and opportunities, especially for the youth. It also focuses on addiction as a health problem and not a criminal one.
The scenario portends countries investing in communities, establishing clinics to treat drug addicts, building sport facilities to dissuade youngsters from joining gangs and implementing “harm reduction” policies. It even envisions some sort of Marshall Plan where countries such as the United States contribute substantial financial resources in community building efforts in Latin America.
This the most unrealistic scenario. The drug problem in most of Latin America is not abuse but trafficking. Building libraries or basketball courts in poor areas won’t stop youths from joining gangs and engaging in drug running when the incomes they derive from it far exceed those they can earn from legal activities. And good legal jobs are rarely created in areas suffering from violent crime. It’s a vicious circle that is difficult to overcome short of legalization.
This scenario tackles drug abuse from a health perspective, which is positive. But this can also be the case under the legalization scenario.
Disruption: This is perhaps the most politically realistic scenario for the moment. Fed up by the constant failure of prohibition and the little advances in implementing alternatives to the war on drugs, one or a group of countries abandon the fight against international drug trafficking. They adopt a non-interventionist approach to drug smuggling, while focusing their police resources on violent crimes.
Many people speculated that this could be the case of Mexico under its new president Enrique Peña Nieto, although there is little evidence so far that his government is trying to reach accommodation with the cartels. Nor is this necessarily possible nowadays. Back in the 1970s and 80s the PRI governments—to which Peña Nieto belongs—adopted a complicit approach to drug trafficking, basically having the federal government look the other way while drugs were shipped to the North. However, back then drug trafficking was a family business conducted by an ex-policeman, Miguel Ángel Felix Gallardo. Today Mexico has up to seven powerful and violent cartels that fight against each other for control of trafficking routes. Even if the Mexican government were to adopt a non-interventionist approach to drug smuggling, that wouldn’t prevent the cartels from engaging in bloody turf wars. Drug violence might decline, since government intervention added volatility to a changing cartel landscape, but it is likely that Mexico would remain a violent country.
Moreover, the report rightly points out that, if a country decides to abandon the fight against drug trafficking, it could become a safe haven for kingpins. Drug money would likely flow into that country’s economy, potentially corrupting institutions and even civil society.
Unfortunately, given Washington’s obstinacy with prohibition, several governments in the region might be tempted to follow this scenario in the near future. They are willing to risk the growing presence of criminal organizations in order to reduce the staggering levels of violence afflicting their countries.
The OAS should be commended for this candid report. It serves the cause of having an open and honest debate on drug policy. It is now up to the leaders of the 34 nations of the Western Hemisphere to discuss which of these scenarios serve their countries better.
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Juan Carlos Hidalgo
Yesterday we hosted a very interesting event with Google Ideas about the use of new media and technology information in Mexico’s war on drugs. You can watch the whole thing in the video below.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest casualties from the bloodshed that besets Mexico is freedom of the press. Drug cartels have targeted traditional media outlets such as TV stations and newspapers for their coverage of the violence. Mexico is now the most dangerous country to be a journalist. However, a blackout of information about the extent of violence has been avoided because of activity on Facebook pages, blogs, Twitter accounts, and YouTube channels.
Our event highlighted the work of two Mexican researchers on this topic. Andrés Monroy-Hernández from Microsoft Research presented the findings of his paper “The New War Correspondents: The Rise of Civic Media Curation in Urban Warfare” which shows how Twitter has replaced traditional media in several Mexican cities as the primary source of information about drug violence. Also, we had Javier Osorio, a Ph.D. candidate from Notre Dame University, who has built original software that tracks the patterns of drug violence in Mexico using computerized textual annotation and geospatial analysis.
Our third panelist was Karla Zabludovsky, a reporter from the New York Times’ Mexico City Bureau, who talked about the increasing dangers faced by journalists in Mexico and the challenges that new media represent in covering the war on drugs in that country.
Even though Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s new president, has focused the narrative of his presidency on economic reform, the war on drugs continues to wreak havoc in Mexico. Just in the first two months of the year over 2,000 people have been killed by organized crime.
At the Cato Institute we closely keep track of developments in Mexico and we have published plenty of material on the issue, including:
- The Fire Next Door: Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America, by Ted Galen Carpenter
- “Time for an Alternative to Mexico’s Drug War,” Jorge Castañeda
- “Mexico Is Still Bleeding,” by Ted Galen Carpenter
- “Undermining Mexico’s Dangerous Drug Cartels,” by Ted Galen Carpenter
Watch the full event:
And for those who speak the language of Cervantes, here’s a ten minute interview that Karla Zabludovsky and I did on CNN en Español about the Cato event.
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By Caleb O. Brown
Since President Felipe Calderon took office six years ago and decided to aggressively fight Mexican drug cartels, Mexico has seen some 60,000 drug-war-related deaths. That’s “more than the number of Americans who died in Vietnam, but in a country with one third the U.S. population,” says former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda.
In a new Cato video released during President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto’s visit to Washington this week, Ted Carpenter explains why the U.S.-backed drug war has been a disaster and urges an end to prohibition. For an in-depth look at the issue, read Ted’s new book, The Fire Next Door: Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America.
You can read more Cato scholars’ writings on the War on Drugs here.
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By Tim Lynch
The momentum for drug policy reform continues to gather strength and is now undeniable. Voters in two states–Colorado and Washington–have now approved marijuana legalization under state law. This represents a historic moment in the drug reform movement. Rejecting the hard-line ‘lock’em up’ mentality that has dominated U.S. drug policy, two states have now broken rank and will now try a new approach.
Legalization means adult marijuana users should not be treated like criminals. Legalization means police should spend their time more wisely–focusing on violent offenders, not people who choose to grow and use marijuana. Federal law remains in effect, but the Obama administration should allow the states to chart another path. One of the benefits of our federal system is that states can experiment with different policies so we can learn what works well and what does not.
It should also be noted that voters in Massachusetts overwhelmingly approved an initiative that would legalize medical marijuana, which continues the liberalization trend in that area. Several cities in Michigan–most notably Detroit–voted to decriminalize marijuana for adults.
From the west coast to the east coast, the political climate for drug policy reform is getting better and better.
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Randy E. Barnett is a lawyer and legal theorist, and a Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute and the Goldwater Institute. He also teaches constitutional law and contracts at Georgetown University Law Center.
In this video from a 1999 Institute for Economic Studies meeting in Aix-en-Provence, France, Barnett recounts his time spent as a prosecutor in Chicago, Illinois, and speaks about the harms to both drug users and civil society at large as the result of drug prohibition in America.
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By Caleb O. Brown
Three states’ ballot initiatives might legalize the recreational use of marijuana this year. To the displeasure of some current and former drug warriors, the Obama Department of Justice is silent on the matter.
Those urging the feds to weigh in, unfortunately, rest their case on some bad reasoning:
- Peter Bensinger, DEA administrator under Jimmy Carter: “Federal law, the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court decisions say that this cannot be done because federal law preempts state law.”
- Tom Gorman, director of the federal Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area: “It’s illegal for a state to pass a constitutional measure that allows its citizens to violate federal law.”
But their claim is just not true. Here’s why. Let’s say the feds have a law banning the use of sugar in iced tea. An example of a state law that conflicts with this federal law would be one that requires the use of sugar in iced tea, not a state law that simply permits the use of sugar. A failure to adopt a law that prohibits the same thing the feds prohibit is simply not a conflict.
Another reason the Justice Department may be silent on these state ballot initiatives? President Obama is less popular nationwide than marijuana legalization.
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Whether it is a coping mechanism in the face of homophobia or just hectic partying is not clear, but new figures suggest that gay people are seven times more likely to take illegal drugs than the general population, with one in five of those surveyed showing signs of dependency on drugs or alcohol.
More than a third of gay, lesbian and bisexual people took at least one illegal drug in the last month, according to the largest study of its kind. Whether drug use is a psychological crutch, a way of integrating into the "scene" or perhaps both, that figure compares to 5 per cent of the wider population who admitted using a drug in the last month in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW).
Campaigners yesterday described the findings as a "wake-up call", while specialists warned that gay people risk being "excluded" from traditional drug treatment services. The report, conducted by the Lesbian and Gay Foundation (LGF) and the University of Central Lancashire, who sampled more than 4,000 people over two years, warns that there is "significant problematic substance use among lesbian, gay and bisexual people" and a risk of "substantial hidden harm".
The most widely used substances among those surveyed were party drugs such as cannabis and poppers, followed by powder cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine and amphetamines. They were 10 times more likely to have used cocaine in the last month than the wider population, and 13 times more likely to have used ketamine. Heroin use was comparable among both populations, but the use of crack cocaine was again higher among the gay community.
David Stuart, education, training and outreach manager at London Friend, the UK’s only targeted LGBT drug and alcohol service, said feelings of "rejection" and "fear" as well as "shame around sex" could be factors leading to substance abuse. He added that drug services "aren’t equipped" to deal with the shifting drug trends, noting that "while government funding is linked to crime prevention and drugs like crack and heroin, less than 2 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people use these drugs."
But Kitty Richardson, 25, who runs the Most Cake, a blog for lesbians in London, said: "the scene has a lot to answer for". She added: "People are very quick to label gay people as troubled, or inherently needing those crutches, but all our methods of socialising revolve around drink or drugs. A by-product of that is people can become dependent."
The research, carried out at Pride events and through online and postal surveys, canvassed a younger age profile than the CSEW, but LGF’s policy and research co-ordinator, Heather Williams, called the figures "striking". She added: "This should be a wake-up call for people working with the community and for policy makers commissioning services at a local and national level."
While drug use in the general population tends to decrease with age, the report found almost as many lesbian, gay and bisexual 36- to 40-year-olds were taking drugs as their younger counterparts.
‘I was bullied quite badly, and started smoking cannabis at 14′
Sarah Graham, 43, is a drug counsellor, living in London. She is also a recovering cocaine user, who at one point was spending £600 a week on drugs and alcohol. The former TV director says the homophobic bullying she experienced at school was a factor in her addiction, which nearly killed her.
"I was bullied on a daily basis; it got quite bad, in terms of physical assaults. I didn’t feel comfortable being myself and at 14, when I wasn’t even out, I started smoking cannabis at the end of the playing fields to numb myself to the reality of day-to-day existence. This led me to taking more serious drugs, like speed and acid, then cocaine.
"A lesbian, gay or bisexual person presenting in treatment can have specific traumas, in which workers need to be trained."
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sat Sep 22, 2012 9:56 pm
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VIENNA—Illegal Internet pharmacies are selling illicit drugs and prescription medicines online and are increasingly targeting young people, a U.N. drug agency warned Tuesday.
The International Narcotics Control Board also described North America as continuing to be “the world’s largest illicit drug market” in 2010; parts of Europe as the homes of industrial scale cannabis factories; and growing poppy cultivation in West Asia.
Focusing on Internet pharmacies as a growing threat, a summary of the agency’s 2011 report cited the agency’s head, Hamid Ghodse, as saying such use of social media “can put large, and especially young, audiences at risk of dangerous products.”
The Vienna-based board urged governments to close down illegal Internet pharmacies. It also called on them to seize substances that have been illicitly ordered on the Internet and smuggled through the mail.
The organization noted “high levels of illicit drug production manufacture, trade and consumption,” with “vast amounts produced in all three countries” in North America — the United States, Canada and Mexico.
About 90 per cent of the cocaine reaching the United States is transited through Mexico, even as an increasingly harsh crackdown by Mexican authorities is forcing some drug cartels to move their operations to Central America, the agency said.
It identified Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua as achieving the status of “major transit countries for smuggling drugs primarily destined for the United States” in 2010.
Cannabis was a major problem in Western and Central Europe, with plants “increasingly cultivated on an industrial scale, mainly indoors, and with the involvement of organized criminal groups,” the agency said.
“Europe accounts for the largest proportion of the global opiate market, and the abuse of heroin is the biggest drug problem in Europe in terms of morbidity and mortality,” according to the summary.
The agency noted “significant increases in opium production” in West Asia last year and warned that higher prices for crop growers in Afghanistan and planned cutbacks in international troops in the country “could lead to even further increases in production beyond 2011.”
It identified parts of Africa as representing a growing problem, both in terms of drug transit routes and of opiate consumption.
Cocaine trafficking from South America through Africa and into Europe “has emerged as a major threat in recent years,” the agency said, with criminals increasingly shipping the drugs in containers and commercial aircraft.
“Heroin enters the continent through East Africa and is smuggled, either directly or via West Africa, into Europe and other regions,” said the summary noting that authorities made “record seizures” of heroin in Kenya and Tanzania last year.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Tue Feb 28, 2012 2:32 pm
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As foreign drug companies began cutting high-paying jobs in Quebec in recent years, Sandoz International GmbH looked like it was bucking the trend.
After paying $565-million for Quebec generic drug maker Sabex Holdings in 2004, Sandoz, a division of Swiss pharma giant Novartis International AG (NVS-N56.59-0.02-0.04%), was positioned to become a leader in one of the fastest-growing areas in the global pharma business: generic injectable drugs.
It invested close to $100-million between 2007 and 2009 to build new facilities at Sandoz Canada’s base in Boucherville, Que. and made the plant, home to 800 workers, a “worldwide centre of excellence for injectable products” within Sandoz.
Today, Sandoz Canada’s reputation lies in tatters after chronic problems at its state-of-the-art plant on Montreal’s south shore caught the eye of U.S. regulators. Much of its production is halted as it tries to fix the problems, leaving pharmacists and health-care providers alarmed at what could be months of shortages of injectable medications that treat everything from nausea among cancer patients and abnormal heart rhythms to endometrioisis.
Last week, Sandoz told Canadian health-care providers it would discontinue certain products and temporarily suspend production of other injectable products on the heels of a scathing “warning letter” from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration three months ago that criticized the plant’s “ineffective quality system.”
“As we progress with our remediation activities, all production processes will be affected, significantly reducing output from our Boucherville plant and likely resulting in temporary supply disruptions,” Sandoz Canada president Michel Robidoux said in a Feb. 16 letter to pharmacists, obtained by The Globe and Mail. He didn’t specify how long the disruption would last, but that Sandoz Canada would focus on “optimizing” supplies of medically necessary drugs to the Canadian market and had halted production of ointments, ophthalmics, suppositories and all non-medically necessary drugs.
The FDA’s Nov. 18, 2011 letter to Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez – which came a year after Sandoz began a company-wide quality improvement program – accused the Boucherville plant of sloppy, error-prone or incomplete documentation, validation and investigation practices. In three investigations during 2011, the FDA found Sandoz did not follow proper procedures “to prevent microbiological contamination of drug products purporting to be sterile,” nor had it thoroughly investigated “inconsistent and inaccurate” media fill tests, or simulated procedures drug companies carry out to ensure their normal manufacturing conditions are sound.
The FDA alleged Sandoz failed to adequately investigate after crystals appeared in some of its finished injectable liquid treatments released for distribution in the US – and that it “failed to adequately determine the cause of this crystallization problem.”
Furthermore, the company repeatedly failed to provide field alert reports that would have alerted the FDA to any contamination or related issues within the required three days. “We remind you that you are responsible for ensuring that your firm’s drug manufacturing operations comply with applicable requirements,” the FDA said, threatening to withhold approval of any new drug applications.
In a tightly-scripted statement to The Globe and Mail, Sandoz Canada said it was intensifying efforts “to ensure high quality standards” and stood behind the safety and efficacy of its products, none of which have been recalled. It said the decision to halt production was voluntary and related to efforts to restore “high quality standards in manufacturing operations” and said it had no plans to close the Boucherville plant. Sandoz didn’t respond to questions about how the problems developed or why they weren’t dealt with to the FDA’s satisfaction after they were first identified.
In total, Sandoz said it had committed a total of over $170-million (U.S.) to improve quality at the Boucherville plant as well as two other plants in Colorado and North Carolina that were also cited in the FDA letter. Sandoz said those “remediation” efforts were already under way when it received the FDA letter
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sun Feb 19, 2012 8:27 am
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