University News

Speaker promotes drug decriminalization

Exec. director of Drug Policy Alliance emphasized the need for drug policy reform

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The United States needs to legalize marijuana, decriminalize drug possession and combat the black market for drugs to the greatest extent possible, said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, to a crowd of close to 70 people  at the Watson Institute for International Studies Tuesday.

Nadelmann, a longtime drug policy reform activist, stressed the importance of legislative and cultural change in the realm of drugs at home and abroad. If Americans are willing to take certain measures, like decriminalizing drugs, the United States could be a model for drug policy for the rest of the world — in particular, Latin America, he said.

Nadelmann said though a wide range of opinions exists, many Latin American leaders agree drug reform is necessary. He recounted numerous firsthand encounters with Latin American chiefs of state and politicians, such as former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos. Many of these leaders are wary of taking bold action on drug policy lest they lose political face, he said.

“The number one obstacle is public opinion in these countries,” Nadelmann added.

Taking action on drug policy is difficult in Latin American countries, partly because of pressure from the United States to stop the distribution and use of drugs, Nadelmann said. He said if drugs were legalized, these countries could benefit from the “unstoppable dynamic of the global commodity market,” but the United States government continues to unsuccessfully fight the growth of the drug market at home and abroad.

The objectives of drug policy reform should be to “reduce the role of criminalization in drug control to the maximum extent consistent with protecting public safety and health,” Nadelmann said. A good drug policy would strike a balance between more “draconian policies” involving strict punishment for drug use and a virtual lack of regulation in the free market, which he dubbed “Milton Friedman’s wet dream.”

In the question-and-answer section of the event, Nadelmann said cultural transformations are also necessary to modernize views on drugs. Specifically, he said certain language can stigmatize drug users. Terms like “drug war,” “drug abuse” and “drug addict … diminish the person’s humanity,” he said.

Nadelmann’s lecture was co-sponsored by the Watson Institute and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. It was part of an ongoing lecture series entitled “New Security Challenges in the Americas.” Peter Andreas, interim director of the Watson Institute and professor of political science, said the lecture series is “part of a larger effort to raise a profile of the Watson Institute’s focus on global security.”

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  1. Anyone that wants marijuana is already getting it. Legalizing and regulating marijuana is not adding another harmful intoxicant to society, legalizing gives people the legal opportunity to make the SAFER CHOICE! Alcohol, tobacco, many Rx drugs, many over the counter drugs, even caffeine, aspirin and non-aspirin, can all be deadly and are well documented as being the direct cause of hundreds of thousands of deaths in the USA every year.

    Prohibition has finally run its course; the lives and livelihoods of hundred’s of millions of people worldwide have been destroyed or severely disrupted; many countries that were once shining beacons of liberty and prosperity have become toxic, repressive, smoldering heaps of hypocrisy, and a gross affront to fundamental human decency. It is now the duty of every last one of us to insure that the people who are responsible for this shameful situation are not simply left in peace to enjoy the wealth and status that their despicable actions have, until now, afforded them. Former and present Prohibitionists must not be allowed to remain untainted and untouched from the unconscionable acts that they have viciously committed on their fellow human beings. They have provided us with neither safe communities nor safe streets. We will provide them with neither a safe haven to enjoy their ill-gotten gains nor the liberty to repeat such a similar atrocity.

    Prohibition has (again) evolved local gangs into transnational enterprises with intricate power structures that reach into every corner of society, helping them control vast swaths of territory while gifting them with significant social and military resources.

    Those responsible for this shameful policy should not go unpunished!

  2. As a European citizen who looks in horror at the heinous consequences Prohibition and the so-called War on Drugs policies have had on drug producing and transit countries, in particular Latin American ones, I cannot help but feel ashamed by the total lack of support shown so far by European countries for the call made by sitting Latin American presidents to engage in an open debate to find alternatives to current drugs policies.

    Why have we not heard a single word of encouragement, let alone support, from European countries that have “quasi legalised” their demand for, as well as their domestic supply of, drugs?

    How can we explain the silence of countries such as the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, among many others, which have de jure or de facto depenalised or decriminalised the personal consumption of some drugs?

    Or the silence of countries that allow users to grow a number of marijuana plants in their homes and for their own consumption, or tolerate the operation of so called “cannabis social clubs”, or authorise the cultivation of marijuana to supply dispensaries where consumption on medical grounds is allowed?

    I do not have any doubts that harm reduction programmes, decriminalisation or depenalisation of the demand for drugs are sensible and necessary policies. But if we were serious about tackling the so-called drug problem, we should be accompanying those policies regarding the demand with equally sensible policies towards the supply of drugs coming from Latin America—or from any other part of the world for that matter.

    It is disgraceful, almost criminal, to see that while Latin America is trying to promote the discussion of current and alternative drug policies, we behave in the most cowardly fashion: we remain in silence!

    Our mutism is totally inexcusable, for in the final analysis the onus is on us, drug consuming countries in the developed world. We should be the ones promoting the Legalisation & Regulation of the supply. We should be the ones making all the noises calling for a change in the national and international legislation on drugs. We should be the ones spearheading the movement seeking the end of Prohibition and the War on Drugs, and the regulation of the production and distribution of all drugs.

    Gart Valenc
    Twitter: @gartvalenc

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