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Latin America Looks to Europe for Drug War Help

Disenchanted with the US's failing counternarcotics efforts, Latin American leaders reach across the Atlantic for model laws.

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Latin America is ready for a new solution.
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By McCarton Ackerman

11/19/12

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Growing frustrations with the ineffectiveness of the US War on Drugs has compelled a growing faction of Latin American countries to turn to Europe for lessons in shaping narcotics laws. To date, most Latin American countries have adopted the US's Prohibition-style approach to drugs, but increasing evidence reveals this approach to be costly and ineffective, as American consumers continue to fuel Mexico's drug war to the tune of $20 billion per year. The recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, in defiance of US federal laws, seems to be the last straw for Latin American leaders. "While in our countries a peasant is persecuted and jailed for growing half a hectare, in those two U.S. states now you can simply grow industrial amounts of marijuana and sell them with complete liberty. We cannot turn a blind eye to this huge imbalance," said Mexican President Felipe Calderon. "We have to ask what alternatives there are. Perhaps less money and less appetite would be generated if there was another way to regulate drugs."

Uruguay's congress moved a step closer last week to putting the state in charge of distributing legal marijuana, and initiative inspired by Catalonia and the Basque Country, in northern Spain, where the courts tolerate marijuana cultivation for personal use by members of social clubs. Meanwhile, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Thursday it was worth exploring the Portuguese model, which decriminalized all drug use in 2001 and saw consumption levels drop below the EU average as a result. Guatemalan President Otto Perez has openly proposed decriminalizing certain drugs; and Mexico also presented a bill last week to legalize the production, sale and use of marijuana, although it appears unlikely that it will pass. Colombia, Peru and Bolivia produce the bulk of the world's cocaine, much of which enters through Europe via Spain. Mexico and Paraguay are the two biggest marijuana producers in the world, with the latter largely supplying its neighbors Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

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