Press Release  | 06/03/2013

Tomorrow: War on Drugs to be Top Focus at Annual General Assembly of the Organization of American States, June 4-6

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Unprecedented OAS Report Stoking Debate Throughout Americas About Ending Prohibition and Legalizing Marijuana

Pressure Builds on Secretary Kerry and Drug Czar Kerlikowske as Growing Chorus of Latin American Presidents Call For Drug Policy Reform

The annual session of the OAS General Assembly is being held this June 4-6, in Antigua, Guatemala, with drug policy reform as the principal item on the agenda. Foreign ministers and other government officials from throughout the region will be in attendance, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William R. Brownfield, and Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske.

The Organization of American States (OAS) released a report two weeks ago that envisions possible scenarios for future drug control policy.  The OAS secretary general, José Miguel Insulza, presented it Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the Casa de Nariño (the Colombian White House). The report – “Scenarios for the Drug Problem in the Americas, 2013-2025” – presents four possibilities for how drug policy could evolve in the Americas, most of which break from the current U.S.-led approach. The report is the first of its kind, providing a thoughtful and detailed visualization of alternatives to the existing drug prohibition regime.

The OAS received its mandate at last year’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena following a discussion among the presidents about the need for new drug control policies that could better reduce the violence and other negative consequences of prohibitionist policies.  With some presidents speaking openly in favor of legal regulation of currently illegal drugs, President Obama acknowledged that ending prohibition is “a legitimate topic for debate” and also stated: “I think it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are ones that are doing more harm than good in certain places.”

“Secretary of State John Kerry now faces a challenge somewhat similar to that of Attorney General Eric Holder,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  “Just as Mr. Holder needs to figure out a way for the Justice Department to allow Colorado and Washington to implement the marijuana legalization initiatives, so Mr. Kerry needs to respond constructively to the Latin American presidents who are demanding a new dialogue about alternatives to failed U.S. prohibitionist policies.”

In 2009, former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), César Gaviria (Colombia) and Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) joined with other members of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy in saying the time had come to “break the taboo” on exploring alternatives to the failed war on drugs.  In 2011, those presidents joined with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss and other members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy in calling for fundamental reforms to national and global drug policies.  Former presidents Jimmy Carter, Ricardo Lagos (Chile), Vicente Fox (Mexico) and Aleksander Kwasniewski (Poland) were among those who seconded their recommendations. Beginning in late 2011, current presidents began to join the calls of their predecessors.  These included President Santos in Colombia, Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala, José Mujica in Uruguay and then-President Felipe Calderón of Mexico. 

Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Ethan Nadelmann 646-335-2240

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