By Otto Pérez Molina, published by The New York Times. In 1961 the international community signed a United Nations treaty that reflected an inter-governmental consensus on how to fight drugs all over the world. Basically, the consensus was the following: drug consumption is very damaging for human beings, and the best way for preventing this type of consumption is to prohibit the production, trafficking and use of drugs.
Today, 51 years after reaching this consensus, something is pretty clear: drugs are prohibited but drugs continue to be consumed in quantities so large that the global market is calculated in hundreds of billions of dollars. In other words, the global consensus is far from being successful. Actually, I prefer to call it what it really is: a failure.
Unfortunately, the global consensus failure is not just expressed in the existence of a huge and incredibly profitable drug market. Big money has also brought greater violence. So the drug market has both increased in its supply of dollars, as well as in its demand for blood.
My home country, Guatemala, as well as other countries in Central America and the Caribbean are suffering this bloodshed, the same bloodshed that is present in many poor urban neighborhoods in the United States, which affects disproportionately young black and Latino Americans.
My government has called for an open dialogue on global drug policy based on a simple assumption: we cannot continue to expect different results if we continue to do the same things. Something is wrong with our global strategy, and in order to know better what is wrong we need an evidence-based approach to drug policy and not an ideological one. This means that we need to evaluate rigorously what is the impact of what we are doing, and analyze carefully what other policy options we can implement.
Moving beyond ideology may involve discussing different policy alternatives. Some people (not my government) may call for full-fledged liberalization of the drug market, as opposed to the current full-fledged prohibition scheme. I believe in a third way: drug regulation, which is a discrete and more nuanced approach that may allow for legal access to drugs currently prohibited, but using institutional and market-based regulatory frameworks. This third way may work best, but let us all be clear that only an evidence-based analysis will lead us to better policies.
Half a century is enough time for assessing the success or failure of a policy. Our children are demanding us to be responsible and to search for the best possible ways to protect them from drug abuse. Let us not waste our time anymore in doing what has proven to be wrong. While we deliver endless speeches on our commitment to a failed approach, more young people are becoming drug addicts who won´t be treated by our health system, but by our criminal justice institutions.
It is a sad story, but I am convinced it doesn´t need to be this way. We can certainly do better than this. And, by all means, we have to.