Florida Governor Rick Scott on Thursday signed a “bong ban” bill that outlaws the sale of pipes and other marijuana-smoking paraphernalia.
We’re used to Scott being out of step with his state: in this case, a recent poll shows 70 percent of Florida voters support medical marijuana legalization. And with his country: most Americans now back marijuana legalization. And maybe with his hemisphere: Latin American and Caribbean government representatives gathered this week primarily to urge the Obama Administration to consider making pot legal.
In fact, those hemispheric officials came to the three-day Organization of American States general assembly in Antigua, Guatemala, armed with a $2 million study.
That OAS report, “The Drug Problem in the Americas,” is “the beginning of a long-awaited discussion” about “more realistic [drug-war] policies,” OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said, echoing a call first made by Latin American leaders at last year’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.
Topping the study’s list of pragmatic suggestions: legalizing weed as one way to deprive Latin America’s violent drug mafias of their multi-billion-dollar revenues. It’s a recommendation this week’s OAS assembly pointed most squarely at Washington: For the past four decades, the U.S. has led a hemispheric drug-war strategy that most Latin American governments now believe has not only failed but has plagued their region with ghastly narco-carnage -- some 60,000 gangland murders in Mexico alone since 2006 -- that shows little sign of abating.
Even before the Antigua gathering got under way on Tuesday, Guatemalan Foreign Relations Secretary Fernando Carrera said, “We have already reached a consensus and agreed that our final [general assembly] declaration will include changes to the current anti-drug model.”
Along with El Salvador and Honduras, Guatemala is part of Central America’s northern triangle, which the U.S. military's Miami-based Southern Command has called the world’s most dangerous region outside of Iraq and Afghanistan because of its drug-related mayhem. Honduras, in fact, now has the world’s highest murder rate and is home to the planet’s most violent city, San Pedro Sula.
Though dysfunctional police and judicial systems in Latin America play a large role in the crisis, the region’s leaders increasingly blame the U.S.’s voracious appetite for illegal drugs, as well as a flood of assault weapons smuggled from the U.S. into their countries.
As a result, they’re insisting that Washington refocus its anti-drug efforts toward reducing demand and finding alternative approaches. That includes legalization of marijuana, which experts say is not more harmful or addictive than legal drugs like alcohol or tobacco when consumed moderately. The Mexican Competitiveness Institute estimates that pot trafficking accounts for a third or more of the up to $30 billion Mexico’s drug cartels rake in each year.
The 400-page OAS study doesn’t explicitly call for marijuana legalization, but it acknowledges that hemispheric trends “lean toward decriminalization or legalization of the production, sale and use of marijuana. Sooner or later,” it adds, “decisions in this area will need to be taken.” Even Washington’s closest ally in Latin America, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, has hailed the OAS report and said the hemisphere has to “seek better solutions” than conventional interdiction.
Former presidents of Colombia, Brazil and Mexico, meanwhile, have already recommended marijuana legalization, and the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado voted to legalize weed in last November’s election. Uruguay this year might become the first Latin American country to legalize it.
Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson insisted before the Antigua assembly began this week that the Obama Administration has already put more emphasis on reducing drug demand in the U.S.
“There is obviously a strong coincidence of views,” between the White House’s agenda and the OAS report, Jacobson argued. Still, it’s unlikely the White House is anywhere near willing to push for marijuana legalization on the federal level. But, unlike Florida’s Governor, Obama is at least enough in tune with voters that he isn’t outlawing bongs.