A turning point in the US drug was is being reached. A majority of American favor legalizing marijuana, including Pat Robertson who says, like many on the Christian right, the nation has “gone overboard on this concept of being ‘tough on crime’,” a punitive approach, and one which most conservatives still support. Robertson now says that the drug war “just hasn’t succeeded,” and marijuana should be regulated by alcohol.
While the shift in public opinion is important politically, it’s even more important strategically is, “The US Drug Policy Faces Latin Dissent,” according to a Wall Street Journal headline (April 14-15). After sharp public questioning of drug policies by US allies in Central America, a leading voice of the foreign policy establishment, Moises Naim, says, “I think 2012 will go down in history as the year when the pillars of Washington’s drug policy began to erode.”
The shift in Latin America follows the 2011 Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy calling for decriminalization and alternatives to mass incarceration. The Commission includes Kofi Annan, George Schultz, Paul Volker, former Brazilian president Henrique Cordoso, former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria, former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss, former EU foreign minister Javier Solana, former UN commissioner Louise Arbour, and former head of the International Chamber of Commerce Maria Cattaui.
It appears the Formers are looking to a different Future.
For domestic political reasons, President Obama continues to unleash federal agents against voter-approved medical marijuana initiatives, and send secret operatives to militarize much of Central and Latin America in the name of a fictitious “drug enforcement” policy. Whereas Foreign Affairs once published drug warrior fantasies about exporting the “successful” war in Colombia to Mexico’s narco-battlefields where 50,000 already have died, he is faced with revolt from his most right-wing militarist allies in the region, including retired general and new president of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina. Even MSNBC’s Chris Matthews appeared startled when he ventured outside American politics to hear Central America’s complaints about the drug war at last week’s Summit of the Americas in Cartegena, Colombia. As Matthews listened, the presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Guatemala all openly differed with the US policy.
If the 11 Secret Service agents caught with prostitutes at the summit had used drugs instead of vodka, one can imagine the drug policy almost collapsing in international furor and humor!
Obama, and vice-president Joe Biden weeks before, played a crucial role in legitimizing for the first time the idea of drug legalization, while astutely restating their personal and official opposition. Biden awkwardly claimed it is “totally legitimate” to hold the discussion because “on examination you [will] realize there are more problems with legalization than with non-legalization.” (New York Times, March 6, 2012) Obama added opaquely that it is “entirely legitimate about whether the laws in place are ones that are doing more harm than good in certain places.”(New York Times, April 4, 2012) Others spoke obliquely as well; Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff spoke of a “middle ground” between arresting everyone or legalizing all drugs. Mexico’s president Felipe Calderon, who faces re-election this year, proposed “market incentives”, a code phrasing for ending the black market. Calderon, supported by the Bush administration’s most rabid drug warriors, launched his military approach in 2006, resulting in 50,000 deaths so far.
With the “conversation” begun, it is expected that the widespread movements for alternatives to the wars on drugs and gangs will gain greater voices and “seats at the table”, as well as new political roles, while the horrific bloodletting is reconsidered. The drug warriors will fight back fiercely.