Heeding Calls For ‘Less Prohibitionist’ Approach, UN Agrees To Reconsider Global Drug Policy

In response to a resolution from Latin American countries lamenting the failure of the drug war, the United Nations General Assembly voted last week to reconsider the international approach to drug policy during a special session.

In proposing the summit to the UN in September, then-Mexican President Felipe Calderon (who left office Dec. 1) questioned the U.S.-led war on drugs, and said the UN should lead a debate over a “less prohibitionist” approach. Last year he suggested that countries should consider drug legalization among the possible alternatives. Calderon made clear, however, that they “won’t cede an inch” in cracking down on gangs.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said during the meeting that it is the UN’s duty to “determine – on an objective scientific basis – if we are doing the best we can or if there are better options to combat this scourge.” He also said that Colombia would be open to legalization if other countries were to also do so, and Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has outright endorsed legalization in the past. Reuters reported in September:

Mexico and Colombia are two of Washington’s firmest allies in Latin America and both work closely with U.S. anti-drug efforts. While the subject of legalization was discussed at an Americas-wide summit in Colombia attended by U.S. President Barack Obama earlier this year, raising the once-taboo subject at the 193-nation meeting in New York amounts to an escalation of the debate.

At the time of this initial proposal, Reuters reported that Obama “ruled out any major changes on drug laws,” but that was before two U.S. states passed ballot initiatives to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol – prompting global discussion about how these state laws will change drug policy, and a warning statement from the the head of a UN drug agency that the United States will be violating international drug treaties.

Obama has not provided any public response to the passage of the two state laws, and both the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration have largely hedged in revealing how they plan to respond to the laws’ implementation, saying only that federal enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act “remains unchanged.” The laws have also prompted several members of Congress to propose an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act that would exempt those states that have passed laws from the act’s marijuana provisions. Other members of Congress have simply asked the federal government not to prosecute those in compliance with the new state marijuana laws – an approach they have rejected with respect to medical marijuana dispensaries in states where they are legal.

Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has also expressed a desire to move “beyond the drug war” and says he plans to focus more on reducing violence.