UN Says Latin America Marijuana Movement May Undercut Drug War

A growing movement in Latin America to decriminalize possession of marijuana and other illegal drugs may undermine global efforts to combat narcotics, a United Nations group said.

The Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board, in its annual report today, said it is “concerned” that Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico are promoting possession of drugs, especially marijuana, for personal use.

If not “resolutely countered”, the decriminalization movement “poses a threat” to the “coherence and effectiveness” of the international drug control system and sends “the wrong message to the general public,” the report said.

Last year, Argentina’s Supreme Court declared the punishment of people possessing cannabis for personal use unconstitutional. Mexico decriminalized possessing small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use. Brazil has also taken steps to partially decriminalize drug possession, including replacing prison sentences with treatment and educational measures.

The INCB, started in 1968 to monitor international narcotics laws, said it regrets that “influential personalities, including former high-level politicians in countries in South America, have publicly expressed their support for that movement.”

Pressuring Obama

Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso led a group of Latin American experts and former leaders who criticized the U.S.-led war on drugs in the region last year. In their report, the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy urged U.S. President Barack Obama to decriminalize marijuana and treat drug use as a public health problem.

The Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute and Washington Office on Latin America, a policy research organization, said today in a statement that the INCB’s report “clearly oversteps” the group’s mandate and represents “unwarranted intrusions into these countries’ sovereign decision-making.”

“There are too many consumers and small-time drug offenders overcrowding Latin American jails,” Pien Metaal, a drug policy researcher for the Transnational Institute, said in the statement. “Part of the overcrowding problem stem from disproportionate prison sentences for non-violent offenders.”

Latin America is the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and cannabis and a major supplier of the opium and heroin, the UN said.

– Article from Bloomberg Business Week.

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