Rethinking the war on drugs

The marijuana legislation in Colorado and Washington has changed the debate about drug policy in Latin America. In less than three weeks, two international summits of government leaders of that part of the world held on both sides of the Atlantic have demanded radical changes. First, the presidents of Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and Honduras had urged to the UN to hold an emergency meeting no later than 2015 to critically reflect on the benefits and faults of the war on drugs during the last OEA meeting. Then, the outcomes of the last Cumbre Iberoaemricana which reunited a representation of almost every single Latin-American country in Cadiz (Spain) concluded that, following successful models of drug legislation in Portugal and Spain, all countries should imitate their example in order to eradicate violence, promote harm reduction and regulate drug use instead of criminalising its consumers.

Such demands in reality are nothing more and nothing less than attempt to finish with the quasi- schizophrenic reality of an American continent divided in two. On the one side the recent victories in Colorado and Washington added to the legislative initiatives in Uruguay aim at ending violence and eradicating organised crime by legislating marihuana. On the other the still prevalent retroactive and prohibitionist laws imply the existence of a barrier obstructing the way forward towards a common liberalizing policy. These two realities stress even more the differences between production and supply countries. While the former suffer from the consequences of violence and corruption the EEUU is becoming immersed in a pacific and tolerant environment which has nothing to do with the horrors and traumas imposed by the hegemonic and regressive doctrine of the failed war on drugs in other parts of the world.

By mentioning the Portuguese and Spanish legislation, the Mexican president has highlighted the old values of the southern-European left and its solidarity introducing a different tool for the debate. His call can also be very useful to relaunch the progressive drug policy in those countries which have suffered severe cuts by conservative governments jeopardising all the fantastic work done on treatment, prevention and education before the ultraliberal austerity took over after many years of social progress. In addition, by turning their back to the USA and focusing on the Iberian social-democracy legacy, Felipe Calderon could even be advocating for the return of coherence and the end of hypocrisy looking at a new model of modern democracies which after suffering the consequences of far right dictatorial regimes knew how to modernise their cultural values and how to integrate their socially excluded always avoiding moral prejudices.  

It was precisely the morals of fear to rebel against the economic and patriotic power which inspire the war on drugs during the rotten Nixon administration imposing a climate of repression. Many people decided to rebel but the immense majority were driven into an estate of panic from which after more than fifty years they have not set themselves free. The world has changed, the USA is the biggest drug user country in the world and yet it continues imposing a zero-tolerance attitude and disregarding the problems of the producer countries. Prohibition has caused many deaths, funded coup d’état, fed the top bosses of organised crime and also allowed the constant violation of human rights in the drug supply chain by abusing the living and working conditions of farmers and poor mules who are forced into that life under coercion.   

Despite the big advance in Washington and Colorado the USA federal government still considers marihuana possession a criminal offence. The countries which asked the UN help and are now looking at southern-Europe are alone and their voices shall not be heard. The recently elected ultra conservative governments in Portugal and Spain are backing off of finding a peaceful solution for the world on drugs. They are simply immersed in the precarious and fallible order originated with the reinvention of the neoliberal model, born after the collapse of communism. This conundrum of empty ideology sustained by the free market triumph in reality is an amalgam of old Cold War stereotypes when it comes to drugs. While Americans thought drugs would destroy their civilisation by creating a generation of rebels and free thinkers who among many other things would oppose the Vietnam War the former Soviet Union considered drugs the quintessential pandemic of bourgeois decadence.

Nothing has changed in today’s world. Russia is still stocked in its all forms due to a cultural baggage which will take many years to erase and the EEUU are still facing the hordes of puritans which constantly reinvent themselves thanks to prophets who promise to restore the natural order, whatever that means. If it is true that Colorado and Washington together with other states which have made positive changes in marihuana legislation are a clear testimony of change, it is also true that not even the charismatic Obama seems to have a very favourable opinion about drug policy reform. At the moment, he is not scared of seen qualitative improvements in Latin-America and if the leaders of those countries finally accepted to stretch their links with their European allies new chapters on drug policy could be written in Brazilian, Spanish and Portuguese from the point of view of a social justice which was born in Europe and always refused to sell its soul to the Anglo-Saxon (K)apital.