The current state of drug policy debate

Trends in the last decade in the European Union and United Nations
Article submitted as support material for the First Meeting of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy
Rio de Janeiro, April 30, 2008

MartinJelsmaMartin Jelsma, from the Transnational Institute, prepared an analysis for the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, explaining the drug policy situation in the European Union and the current state of debate in the United Nations agenda. The commission is an initiative born of former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, from Brazil, César Gaviria, from Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo, from Mexico, to respond to concerns related to the problems of drug consumption and traffic in Latin America. The idea to constitute a commission capable of consolidating a debate concerning this problematic also responds to the necessity of reviewing the world drug policies in the scope of the United Nations, which began in March 2008.

This document offers an overview of the current trends in the search for possible alternative policies, particularly in the scope of the European Union and the United Nations. When speaking of alternative policies, it is easy to fall into the trap of over-simplifying the difference between prohibition and legalization. However, thinking in terms of this dichotomy is of little use when searching for strategies for change.

At an abstract level, in the conceptual debate, bringing to the discussion the concept of legalization might be useful for questioning the current system. But legalization is not necessarily the answer, or the solution, for all the problems related to the existence of the illegal drugs economy. Just as extremely repressive methods used to control drugs can have harmful effects, so the absence of certain control measures can also have a negative effect on public health.

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The objective of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy is to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of current drug policy in Latin America and to contribute towards more efficient, safe and humane policies. The first meeting was held in Rio de Janeiro on April 30th 2008, marking the beginning of a frank and audacious debate on the subject, defying the long period of silence and taboos around the drug problematic. The issue is a current problem in several dimensions and can no longer be thought only as State responsibility. Go to the website