IDPC/WOLA/TNI side event: The Latin American agenda for drug policy reform

The participants in this side event, organised by IDPC, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Transnational Institute (TNI) were Pedro Arenas, representative of the Observatory of Crops Declared to be Illicit, former mayor of San José del Guaviare, and former member of the Colombian Congress, Coletta Youngers, IDPC Representative and Senior Fellow at WOLA and Julio Calzada, General Secretary, National Drug Secretariat, Uruguay.

 
Coletta Youngers, IDPC Representative and Senior Fellow at WOLA
In Latin America, we can currently see an increase in drug use, more corruption and an increase of drug-related violence. People are tired of paying a huge cost from current strategies focused on supply reduction. As a result, several countries are now proposing alternative strategies.  One of the main topics discussed in the region is the decriminalization of drug use. In 2006, for example, Brazil passed a law that decriminalized drug use. In 2009, Mexico approved a law making a distinction between drug use and drug dealing (narcomenudeo). In 2008 the Constitution of Ecuador implementedprinciples that considered unconstitutional to criminalize drug use.

Guatemala has also made important calls for drug policy reform at the international level, and has connections with the Beckley Foundation to developalternative policies. Recently Bogotá, Colombia, opened treatment centers for drug users (called CAMAD). Academic centers, such as the University of the Andes, are also conducting research on the matter.

There are significant movements today that are questioning the international drug control conventions. Some countries in the region, such as Boliviaon the coca leaf issue, or Uruguaywith the legal regulation of the cannabis market, constitute direct challenges to the 1961 Single Convention, highlightingsome of the tensions and contradictions of the international drug control system.
Following the Cartagena Summit, bilateral meetings to evaluate current drug control policies. The next General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in Guatemala will focus on alternative drug policy strategies. At the international level, countries as Colombia, Guatemala and México called for the holding of a High level review of the drug problem through a United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS). This discussionwill take place in 2016.  
Despite these positive developents, we must not be naïve. We continue to face many challenges – influential political forces avoid any change at national level, and public opinion is influenced by sensationalist media that focuses public insecurity rather than health and human rights.
 
Sandra Noriega, Permanent Mission of Guatemala at Vienna
 
Drug trafficking generates a high level of violence in Guatemala. As a result, President Otto PerezMolina has submitted proposals to review our current drug control policies. He put forward the following priorities:
• Strengtheningpublic health education programs in schools.
• Reducing violence
• Reducingmoney laundering,
• Legalizationof Marijuana
• Legalization ofpoppy crops for medicinalpurposes.
Until now, we can’t say that the current strategies of drug on wars are successful.
 
Pedro Arenas, Observatory of Crops Declared Illicit (OCDI), Colombia
 
I have lived in a coca cultivating region for years and I have experienced policies seeking to promote alternative development and alternative livelihoods. Eradicationof drug crops, whether manual or aerial, does not work.
In November last year government officials and NGOs met in Lima, Peru, to discuss alternative development, as we did previously in Thailand.This process is linked with the World Drug Forum of Farmers in Barcelona in 2009, where we stated that it was necessary to:
• Recognize traditional, cultural, social and religious uses of the three plants prohibited by the 1961 Single Convention – cannabis, coca, opium
• highlight the problem of forced eradication
• Develop comprehensive developmentstrategies without condition (i.e. without requiring the eradication of illicit drug crops as a precondition for development)
• Promote social inclusion processes and social movements
 
We want to thank the Thai government who worked in 2011 on adraft containing realistic political strategies. The meetings organized in Chiang Mai focused on a transversal approach to drug production issues, the inclusion of civil society in the debates, etc.
However, in the meeting that took place in Lima last year, civil society was not invited to participate in the same way as at the Chiang Mai meeting. The report launched after the Lima gathering was quite different from the report produced in Chiang Mai, and was adopted without the participation of civilsociety organizations. Because of these developments, we decided to adopt the statement of Valencia, which declares that:
 
• The guiding principles of alternative development approved in the ministerial draft resolution in Lima gives prominence to the international conventions and legal watchdogs about the elements of alternative development. This document does not take into account the views of experts and the experiences of other areas and geographic regions, only takes into account the processes occurring in the Andean region
• The Lima Declaration proposes an alternative development approach that focuses on reducing illicit crops rather than on the social, economic and cultural needs of subsistence farmers. It emphasizes a tight control and law enforcement focus
•The Lima Declaration emphasizes strategies based on the eradication of illicit crops. On the contrary, we consider that alternative development and preventive alternative development should be prioritized
• We call on states to play a more integral role when dealing with peasant movements and conflicts
• We call for the recognition of the right to land tenure for small peasants
• We recommend to all states to share experiences and adopt evidence-based policies
• We encourage international cooperation and an approach that does not pre-condition development programs to crop eradication
• The Lima Declaration promotes a monoculture and agro business development model, whereas we promote a comprehensive development approach  
• The Lima draft does not mention problems related to mitigation or adaptation to climate change.
 
After Lima, we held a coca growers meeting inBogota, at the margins of the 4th Latin American Conference on Drug Policy organized by Intercambios. We discussed and put togetherthe points mentioned in the Valencia Declaration. We continue to have a critical view of the guiding principles of alternative development. We would like toinvite representatives from Thailand to get involved in this process.
In the case of Colombia, our president has asked the OAS to conduct more research on coca crops. I wantedto point out that while we are here in Vienna for the CND, coca farmers are demonstrating in my region to protest for the aerial sprayings that have been conducted against their crops for more than 19 years. This is a clear proof that these policies have not worked. We should work on national policies and not simply wait for change to happen at the international level.
 
July Calzada, General Secretary, National Drug Secretariat, Uruguay

The Uruguayan government has just submitted a draft bill that seeks to legally regulate the production, sale and consumption of cannabis in the country. The cannabis bill is currently beendiscussed in Parliament. It is a synthesis of the two following projects:
• A bill introduced by deputies.
• The project proposed in June 2012 by the executive.

The first was supported by a human rights approach towards drugs, while the second proposal was triggered by the drugs crisis and increase in the level of drug-related violence in the country. President Mujica is convincedthat the best way to tackle drugs is by regulating the market. In the second half of 2011, legislatorsof the Frente Amplio were working on the development of the project that I will present today.

The project is very broad. It is known as the “single article” condensed in articles 1 and 2:

• Article 1 aimsto promote, protect and improve the health of the population, minimize harms, implement harm reduction and promote adequate information, education and prevention
• Article 2 provides that the state and its institutions will control the importation, cultivation, collection, distribution ofcannabis.
 
The drug law that is being changed was adopted during the military dictatorship in the 1970s, although that it was quite a liberal law since it did not criminalize drug use. However, it did criminalize drug production and supply. It is that what we are changing with the current law proposal.
 
The bill should be voted by September in Parliament.

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