Latin America: Honduran President Joins Drug Legalization Chorus

During a conference in Tegucigalpa bringing together UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) officials and drug ministers from 32 Latin American and Caribbean nations, the conference host, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya called for legalizing drug use. In so doing, he joins a growing list of Latin American leaders singing the same tune.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/manuelzelaya.jpg
Manuel Zelaya
Legalizing drug use, or more accurately, decriminalization, would de-fang international drug trafficking organizations and free Honduras of the financial burden of attempting to impose drug prohibition, Zelaya said. "The trade of arms, drugs and people... are scourges on the international economy, and we are unable to provide effective responses" because of the global drug prohibition regime, Zelaya said Monday at the opening of the 18th meeting of regional leaders against drug trafficking.

Drug users should be considered patients, not criminals, Zelaya said. Drug users could be treated by health care professionals instead of arrested or harassed by police. And the state could stop throwing money down a rat hole, too, he added. "Rather than continue to kill and capture traffickers, we could invest in resources for education and training," the Honduran leader said.

Like the rest of Central America, Honduras is plagued by illegal drug syndicates typically using the country as a transshipment point for Colombian cocaine headed for the North American market. It is also seeing increasing drug use levels as some of the product inevitably falls off of the back of the truck.

With his remarks Monday, Zelaya is joining what could become an emerging Latin American consensus. Just days ago, Mexican President Felipe Calderón, whose country is plagued with prohibition-related violence, called for the decriminalization of small amounts of drugs. The government of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is actively pushing decriminalization there. In Brazil, the courts are leading the way to decriminalization. Meanwhile, Bolivia and Venezuela are openly feuding with the US, in part over drug policy issues. In August, officials of the left-leaning Mexican PRD, the largest opposition party, asked party legislators to consider calling for drug legalization as part of a 'grand national accord' to deal with violence and insecurity in the country.

The talk of legalization by Latin American political leaders is often imprecise -- do they mean decrim or legal, regulated production and sales? -- and to the degree they are really talking only about decriminalization -- not legalization -- the enactment of such policies will fail to reduce some of the harms associated with drug prohibition, although they will reduce certain harms suffered by drug users. But Latin America appears to be on the verge of showing its northern neighbor a thing or two when it comes to humane and effective drug policies.

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"drugs", decriminalization and legalization with regulation

It seems that part of the issue could be easily resolved by defining what exactly is a drug that needs to be regulated. If we start with the assumption that any plant or raw plant product can be rightfully used by any human without any sort of permission or regulation we would go a long way towards solving the problem. Much like the Justinian codes which recognized the right of all humans to have access to the sea or even breathe air, we all have the right to grow plants, collect seeds, and use plants and plant substances. This is natural law that is not alterable. The fact that the current regime tries to revoke or suppress these rights and uses legislative bodies as a vehicle to do so does not make it legitimate, it just confuses the discussion by laying a mantle of illegitimacy on activities that are completely licit.

Take coffee. Were it to suddenly come on the scene today it would without a doubt be labeled a dangerous "drug". In fact it is far more pharmacologically active than marijuana and there is even an LD50 (lethal dosage for 50% of the population) associated with it. [estimated to be about 50 cups of coffee in an hour]. If I want to grow coffee, sell coffee, buy coffee or use coffee the only regulations that would ever apply are those that would regulate adulteration or contamination in handling or processing. How much I plant, how much I sell, how much I buy isn't and shouldn't be regulated by anything other than market forces. Fortunately this common sense approach prevails with coffee, chocolate, tea, yerba mate, cola nuts, betel nuts and even tobacco in most places. If the discussion moves to marijuana, salvia divinorum, khat, opium, datura, coca, or "magic mushrooms" or some new yet to be discovered plant then the voices for regulation and control immediately start shrieking. Yet all of these are plant substances with extensive histories of human use existing long before governments were instituted among men.

Cocaine is not Coca, Heroin is not raw opium, and NoDoz is not coffee. If there is to be some regulation and control put it on refined and concentrated substances not plants or natural plant products. Insure quality and purity and require "truth in labeling", but let humans get on with the human experience which can involve the use of mind altering substances and lets move on.

It looks like Latin America is ready to do so.

we've been hearing these voices from Latin America for a while..

but is anything really happening there?
are there genuine legislative efforts in progress?

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