WASHINGTON – Drug legalization in the United States “is not going to happen in our lifetime,” Peter Reuter assured a group of Latin American diplomats and journalists Thursday.
The founder and director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center from 1989-1993,said it was a “seductive idea” but it will not happen due to the huge uncertainty on the effects such a measure would have on society.
“No one has taken it seriously enough to look for a blueprint of what that would look like,” he said.
Peter Hakim,author of the report,said drug proliferation is a problem shared by the United States and the rest of the hemisphere. He said a number of people in Latin America blame U.S. drug consumption and arms shipping as contributors to drug problems in Latin American countries.
The report said three out of four Americans believe the U.S. “war on drugs” has failed,according to a 2008 Zogby International survey. It offered six proposals for rethinking U.S. and global approach toward drug policies:
- review outdated United Nations treaties that provide the legal foundation of the international narcotics regime;
- organize an inter-governmental task force to fight narcotics;
- establish anti-drug strategy commissions in the House and Senate;
- expand the collection of drug-related data and analysis;
- finance research on the physical,economic,social and criminal effects of drug use; and
- monitor drug-reducing programs at the community,state and federal levels.
Reuter,a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland,said there was a slim chance the U.S. would follow the example of Portugal,where drugs were decriminalized in 2001. He said decriminalization “didn’t make a substantial difference” in Portugal.
Others,including Glenn Greenwald in a CATO report,have called the measure “a resounding success.” Greenwald’s report received a lot of attention when it came out in 2009. He was not a participant in Thursday’s discussion.
Reuter said high-ranking government officials do not care about legalization issues because,in the U.S.,the drug problem is not a national security one.
“In Latin America,it is,” he said. “The instinct is to reach for a national security solution.”
Reuter said the military played a large role in shaping success in Colombia,where drug trafficking has been a long-standing national issue.
Rep. Eliot Engel,D-N.Y.,said Colombia was the best success story regarding drug policy changes. Colombia received $230.1 millions in U.S. funds in 2009 through the Andean Counterdrug Initiative,which aims to reduce the flow of drugs to the U.S. and prevent instability in the Andean Region.
He said a large decrease in drug activities in the country was proof that U.S. foreign aid money wasn’t “poured into a sewer” as some critics claimed.
“In the case of Colombia,they couldn’t be more wrong,” said Engel,who chaired the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere in the last Congress.
Rep. Connie Mack,R-Fla.,who now chairs that subcommittee,said the drug problem in the Americas has turned from a supply-and-demand issue to a counter-insurgency one.
“If we continue to work just around the edges,we’re never going to make it,” he said.
Asked if the U.S. military would play a role in reshaping drug policy,Mack said he was willing to put “everything and the kitchen sink” on the table.
“I think our military can play a role in eradicating drug problems in Latin America,” he said.
Rep. Jared Polis,D-Colo.,said that,although there would always be a military aspect,he hoped the drug policy would move in a different route.