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Marijuana moments

Mexico’s Peña Nieto should take a pragmatic lead on the road to legalization

Like "Kodak moments," back in the days when there were Kodaks, we have lately seen four "marijuana moments" - landmarks on the road toward legalization. The first was the discussion at a recent meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Guatemala of a document titled "The Problem of Drugs in the Americas." Prepared by an array of experts from most of the OAS countries, the text, divided in two parts — one analytical and excellent, the other of scenarios, brief and exasperating — is a real turning point in the debate. It gives us a common or consensual body of information, or database, on the issue. Most attractively, it analyzes the problem from various angles, giving data by type of country (producer, transit, consumer or combinations thereof); by type of narcotic (marijuana, cocaine, heroin, synthetic drugs); by the links, or absence thereof, between each of these; and by the consequences of production, trafficking and consumption of each on society, public institutions and international relations. Lastly, as an alternative to the war on drugs, it presents legalization as a legitimate, reasonable and feasible option, while not actually recommending it. This is a huge step forward.

The second cannabis moment was when the states of Washington and Colorado enacted state laws legalizing the production, sale and consumption of marijuana, which will come into effect on July 1, with a foreseeable array of stipulations regarding minors, driving, taxation, and non-US-resident persons.

The third recent marijuana moment has been the decisions made, or almost made, in the states of Illinois and New York, allowing restricted use of marijuana for medical ends, which are still subject to senate approval (New York) or governor's veto (Illinois). Many states already allow medical use, and more are likely to follow.

The expert advice commissioned by the Organization of American States marks a real turning point in the debate

Lastly, just before the Guatemala meeting, the organization Human Rights Watch (to whose Board of Administration I used to belong) announced its position in favor of legalizing all drugs, without entering into details on production and sale. It did so on the grounds of international law on human rights, particularly those formally recognized in international or national legislation. One important paragraph: "Subjecting people to criminal sanctions for the use of drugs, or for possession of drugs for personal use, infringes on their autonomy and right to privacy. The right to privacy is widely recognized in international law [...] according to which, violations of privacy are not justifiable unless they conform to a set of criteria required for the curtailment of fundamental rights: legitimate purpose, proportionality, necessity and non-discrimination. While the protection of public health is a legitimate governmental objective, to criminalize the consumption of drugs to prevent people from harming themselves does not conform to the criteria of necessity and proportionality."

There are two obstacles to these developments: the position of much of the Latin American left in the OAS debate, both in the presentation of the document and in the assembly, particularly that of Brazil; and the absence of Mexico among the vanguard countries (Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Uruguay) who are heading the legalization effort.

Meanwhile, the president of Nicaragua categorically rejects any move toward legalization, following the Castro regime's line of "fire and sword against drug trafficking." Venezuela and Brazil had nothing to say; Ecuador and Bolivia took a qualified, self-interested line. Only José Mújica of Uruguay came out clearly in favor of liberal legislation. On the left, he stands alone. This is lamentable.

Lastly, Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico is roundly and rhetorically opposed to legalization, but when it comes to brass tacks his government may prove more flexible. It would certainly be desirable if, in this area, he showed the same pragmatism we have lately seen in other ambits of his administration.

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