Policy/Biz

Drug User Penalties Should Be Reduced, Organization Of American States Says

Organization Of American States Urges Leaders To Decriminalize Drug Addiction
The political organization representing 35 member-states in North and South America on Friday urged leaders to reduce penalties on illegal drug users in favor of rehabilitation treatment. U.S. Government

As illegal drug use rises in Argentina and Brazil, the Organization of American States is urging countries throughout the Americas to consider decriminalizing drug use as a new public health policy.

The organization on Friday released a 200-page report advocating the decriminalization of drug use as a strategy to reduce violence associated with drug trafficking and to better treat addicts afflicted with chronic behavioral health problems.

President Juan Manuel Santos, of Colombia, praised the proposal for the 35-member group. "The report presented by the OAS today is a vital piece in the construction of a common way to fight this problem," Santos said at a press conference in Bogota.

The report says nearly all of the cocaine consumed in western countries is produced in Latin America, with violence associated with the drug trade killing thousands annually in Colombia, Central America, and Mexico. As consumption of illegal drugs rises in Argentina, Brazil, and elsewhere, many of the world's addicts reside in North and South America. According to the report, the two continents are home to half of the world's heroin users, 45 percent of cocaine users, and a quarter of everyone who smokes marijuana.

"The decriminalization of drug consumption must be considered the base of any public health strategies," the report authors wrote. "An addict is not a person with a chronic disease that should be punished for his addiction."

Many officials at the United Nations likewise agree with the tenets of the proposal. Helen Clark, head of the United Nations Development Program, said in March that Latin American countries should view illegal drug use as a public health problem, rather than merely a security challenge. The organization's proposal advocates "a substantial reduction in penalties" for illegal drug users in favor of addiction-based rehabilitation programs.

While the report does not necessarily advocate legalizing all drugs of abuse, the organization urged the 35 nations to consider legalizing marijuana while reducing legal penalties for other drugs.

"Our report, however, did not find any significant support, in any of the countries, toward the decriminalization or legalization of any other illegal drug," the organization wrote.

Santos said Colombia might be open to reducing penalties for users of some, but not all, illegal drugs in an effort to reduce violence.

The U.S., which has given billions of dollars to Colombia to fight the drug trade, spent some $15 billion on the so-called war on drugs both internationally and domestically in 2010.

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