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    Former presidents propose to decriminalize marijuana    

    By Andrea Domingues*


    Pictures by Walter Mesquita

    Decriminalizing the transportation of marijuana for personal use and sending the users to doctors instead of jail. This is what the former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, from Brazil, and Cesar Gaviria Trujillo, from Colombia, asked for on behalf of the Latin American Commission of Drugs and Democracy (above), during meeting in Rio de Janeiro when the declaration that proposes new drugs policies for the region was released. Although not present in the event, Mexican former president Ernesto Zedillo is also part of the commission and supports the declaration.

    The document is a reply to what the commission considers the failure of drug repression policies led by the United States and endorsed by the UN. “A realistic evaluation of these policies shows that the reduction in production nor the consumption of drugs has not happened. We are farther than ever from the announced goal of eradicating illicit drugs” assured Cardoso.

    fhc.jpg“The focus on prohibition has generated serious human and social problems as the violence and corruption increases in the region”, Cardoso (photo) added. The declaration will be presented during a meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March, in Geneva, Switzerland.

    In Mexico, for example, 5,300 people lost their lives last year as a consequence of the violence generated by the confrontations between dealers - an increase of 117% in the number of homicides in relation to the previous year, according to data from the Attorney General Office´s of Mexico.

    Cardoso made clear that the commission proposal of marijuana decriminalization, however, does not imply in complacency with  drugs and that this measure has to be followed by a strong preventive component, through informative campaigns and repression to organized crime. “We reaffirm that drugs are harmful to people and society and our main goal is to reduce this damage, but we believe that the way to deal with this subject is a matter of public health”, Cardoso defended.

    In Latin America initiatives in this direction already exist. Brazil approved in 2006 a law that decriminalized the transportation of small amounts of marijuana. In Colombia, the transportation of doses of marijuana for personal use is allowed, as of any drug, including cocaine, after a country Constitutional Court defended the right to the free development of ones personality. Argentina is debating the subject and, out of the region, the pioneers in the decriminalization of the consumer are Sweden, Holland, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

    Marijuana is the most consumed drug in the world, with 160 million users. It is produced by 82 countries and trafficked in 146 nations. This data is from the last World-Wide Report on Drugs formulated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), that recognizes the increase in the consumption in Latin America over the last few years.

    Latin America has the right

    gaviria_fh.jpgColumbian former president Cesar Gaviria (on the left), who co-presides the commission along with its Brazilian and Mexican colleagues, affirmed that the decriminalization is only one step towards more effective drug policy to diminish the consumption.”

    Decriminalization is part of the solution, but it is not the solution”, affirmed. “It is necessary to do what the Europeans are doing with citizens who have developed an addiction: helping them, sending them to have medical treatment, treating them as a public health problem and helping them not become criminals”.

    In an open critic to the policies of repression practiced by United States, Gaviria affirmed that the country is one of the only ones that continues jailing drug users. “We believe that this is not the reply”, he added.

    During the last ten years, the criminal cases relative to drugs in the North American Federal Justice system have tripled overloading the criminal system of that country. According to the North American Drug Policy Alliance organization , about 1,5 million  people are imprisoned yearly for breaking  the anti-drug laws, and 40% of them go to jail for possession of marijuana.

    Another failure of the North American politics regarding illicit drugs is the US$4,9 billion that the Columbian government received from the United States government as part of the Colombia Plan on  drug trafficking combat, which did not diminish the flow of drugs of the Andean country to the United States.

    As for the advancement reached by some European countries thanks to the implementation of damage reduction policy, Gaviria also criticized the fact that in that region the consumption hasn’t diminished. The former president attributes the fact to the lack of a consistent work for the prevention and education amongst the drugs users.

    The former-president of Colombia affirmed, still, that Latin America has the right to demand from the United States a revision of the prohibition policies that have not achieved the expected results and affects the region. “The commission is considering that Latin America takes an independent position in terms on consumption”, affirmed.

    According to Gaviria, the region is developing great work in terms of cocaine apprehension and it is the key for North American politics. “Drug politics doesn’t exist without the cooperation of Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and all the other countries. Therefore, we have the right to debate these policies and the first step is to ask United States to open for discussion”, demanded Gaviria.

    When he was president of the Federal Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, the current United States vice-president Joseph Biden asked the agency a report on the results of the Colombia Plan, which the verdict was categorical: the program did not accomplish in diminishing the flow of cocaine from Colombia to U.S.A.

    Another signal that it indicates that Obama’s administration is not far from reevaluating its drugs policies is the nomination of the new anti-drug Czar Gil Kerlikowsk, current Seattle policy head, a city characterized by its vanguardism: it introduced the damages reduction policies and the legal use of marijuana for medical purposes ten years ago.

    Beyond directly lobbying with United States and continuing with the promotion of debates together with other governments, the commission intends to influence the discussions that will happen during the sessions of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Although the prepared drafts for this meeting do not contemplate great changes in the world-wide drugs policies, Gaviria guaranteed that “ it is not possible to keep thinking that the drugs will disappear, because this is not realistic. It is necessary to adopt changes as, for example, the reduction of damages”.

    antanas_mockus.jpg“In many countries, the drug trafficking is generating an increasing criminalization of politics and a politicalization of crime that threatens the democratic institutions”, affirmed Cardoso. The Brazilian former president emphasized that it is first necessary to break the taboo that blocks the debate on the question of drugs in our societies. “We need to explore alternative paths, with prudence and courage, that will lead us to more secure, human and efficient policies”, he affirmed.

    When commenting on the importance of the consumption prevention of illicit drugs, the former mayor of Bogota, Antanas Mockus (photo), recognized for its pedagogical exercises to reeducate the Colombian citizens in questions of sociability, said that the control of the drugs consumption cannot be left only to the hands of the police.

    According to Mockus, a young person does not stop consuming drugs because the law forbids, but because its conscience says so and that is conquered through information and social control. “Nothing is gained forbidding the use of drugs in this manner, although forbidding it by law, is approved by society”, he explained.

    Also attended the meeting other members of the Commission, among them, the former minister of Justice and of Foreign Relations of Peru, Diego García Sayán; the judge Patricia Llerena, member of the Argentine Analysis Commission of Drugs Policies; general AlbertoCardoso, former minister of Institutional Security of the Presidency of Brazil and João Roberto Marinho, chief executive of O Globo.
    Five steps for change

    1. Change the status of addicts from drug buyers in the illegal market to that of patients cared for in the public health system.
    2. Evaluate from a public health standpoint and on the basis of the most advanced medical science the convenience of decriminalizing the possession of cannabis for personal use.
    3. Reduce consumption through campaigns of information and prevention that can be understood and accepted by young people, who account for the largest contingent of users.
    4. Redirect repressive strategies to the unrelenting fight against organized crime, fighting the most harmful effects of organized crime on society, such as violence, institutional corruption, money laundering, arms trafficking, and the control over territories and populations.
    5. Reframe the strategies of repression against the cultivation of illicit drugs through Eradication efforts combined with the adoption of strongly alternative development programs

    * Reporter from Comunidade Segura (www.comuniadesegura.org)