In an op-ed on Tuesday, Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil, condemned the global war on drugs and advocated for a new approach based around legalization and regulation.
Annan and Cardoso argue that there is “clear evidence of failure” of harsh drug policies, which penalize non-violent users while funding organized crime and trafficking rings that terrorize communities around the world. The two are part of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which released a report in 2011 espousing a public health approach and legal drug regulation that could undercut the power of international organized crime.
Historically, the U.S. has led the charge to enact tough drug policies around the world, even as American drug users contribute $40 billion a year to Latin American drug cartels. Nations like Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia, ravaged by the violence and power of the drug trade, are driving a reform movement in the UN, but have thus far been stymied without U.S. support.
However, as attitudes change in the U.S. and more and more states approve marijuana for either recreational or medical use, global drug policy has been thrown into question. In March, the U.N.’s International Narcotics Control Board pressured the Obama administration to crack down on state legalization of marijuana, arguing that these initiatives threaten international drug control treaties. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime also remains opposed to policy changes.
Meanwhile, several countries in Europe and Latin America have moved toward legalization within their borders. Uruguay recently announced the government would sell marijuana for $1 a gram in an effort to wrest market power away from drug cartels. Uruguay and other nations pondering legalization are also watching Colorado and Washington, which legalized marijuana last year and plans to regulate and tax the drug, as models for implementation.
Annan and Cardoso marked the special session of the UN General Assembly in 2016 as the next big opportunity to discuss drug policy reform. Given Americans’ rapidly changing views on drugs, U.S. leadership may finally be ready to lend its clout to enact meaningful reform.