Intriguing Results from the OAS Drug Policy Scenario Workshop

If you are interested in finding solutions to the War on Drugs, you will want to take a look at the Organization of American States document titled Scenarios for the Drug Problem in the Americas [pdf]. It is the result of the 6th Summit of the Americas in Cartagena de Indias of 2012, where, although Obama steadfastly refused to consider any changes in US drug policy, alternatives to the Drug War were brought to the table in a historic discussion between leaders of Western Hemisphere nations.
The participants mandated the production of two documents, the first being an analysis of the current drug problem [pdf]. The other is more intriguing, envisioning different scenarios that could unfold. This creative approach brought together a diverse team of individuals in fields ranging from security and justice to health, education, business, politics, and indigenous cultures. Their purpose: To generate relevant and credible fictions “intended to support an open and constructive search for answers to core questions of drug policy and strategy.” The idea is to initiate informed debate without the political hazard of tying anyone to any particular policy position.
The scenarios
Together. This scenario represents the status quo, where the drug problem is addressed in terms of security. With weak state institutions allowing ongoing organized crime, violence, and corruption, the solution is improving regional cooperation that strengthens public safety institutions.
Pathways. The title of this scenario refers to experimentation with various alternatives to the crime-and-punishment approach. In this view, the regime of drug criminalization causes more harm than good. The projected outcome is a disjointed patchwork of approaches.
Resilience. Assuming that underlying social issues are at the core of the drug problem, this is a long-term, indirect approach that invests resources in strengthening communities, which requires a great deal of funding and patience.
Disruption. This is a cautionary tale about how the states suffering the most in terms of violence, in their frustration with the lack of action on the part of the user nations, follow the path of least resistance, becoming narco-states.
International standards and coordination
The exercise of laying out these possible scenarios provides great insight into the complexity of issues involved in solving the drug problem. In working through the possibilities, informative insets are presented in the document that highlight and detail important points.
Two drug control evaluation and certification standards are mentioned in the context of nations working together to improve their security institutions, including increasing the effectiveness of coordination and information sharing, both internally and hemispherically. One is the “Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism” that is used by the OAS, and the other is the US State Department’s certification process.
Financial regulation and information sharing is cited as a keystone of international and regional cooperation on drug crime detection, but in this area, the infamous “world police” have been woefully asleep at the wheel. Included with the financial issue of money laundering is tax evasion, which is depriving Mexico of “US$ 7-12 billion in tax revenue per year – a much larger amount than the US$ 1.5 billion of US aid to fight the drug-related violence in Mexico” (through the Merida Initiative.) After chronicling the disappointingly low percentage of worldwide profits that HSBC and Wachovia paid in fines for the egregious abetting of drug-profit money laundering in recent years, the authors point out:
“While particular attention has been focused on off-shore financial centers in developing countries, the principal sources of tax evasion, tax secrecy, money laundering, and regulatory arbitrage are located in developed countries’ on-shore banking systems, according to the so-called Stiglitz Commission.”
Despite this condemnation, it is noteworthy that on Thursday, May 23, the United States, working with international partners, did shut down “the largest money laundering operation in history,” the Costa Rica-based online currency exchange Liberty Reserve.
Websites like Silk Road that sell drugs anonymously over the Internet present yet more challenges for law enforcement.
The document highlights the importance of the United Nations drug conventions and control programs, going over the history and explaining the tasks and enforcement power of the International Narcotics Control Board. Also explained are how the conventions can be changed by modification or amendment. Although the procedures make changes very difficult, these conventions are not set in stone.
The OAS endorses the Hemispheric Drug Strategy of 2010 and its action plan, which recommends policies that focus on respecting human rights while reducing the consumption of drugs, recognizing drug dependency as a public health issue.
Proportionality of drug-crime sentences is an area of concern, as the trend in the past few decades has been toward increases both in the number of acts that have been criminalized and in lengths of prison terms.
Cultural issues
An important cultural issue is addressed with the inclusion of a statement made by Danilo Villafañe, an Arhuaco leader during the Scenario Workshop. To the explanation of his people’s use of coca leaves for spiritual consciousness and connection with nature, he has this to add to the conversation:
“We have to dialogue with maturity and serenity. At some point there has to be a kind of change, a renewed logic about life, and a new sense of responsibility towards Earth. Hopefully, this will be a moment of change, to see clearly the things that can reorient our thinking.”
Alternative approaches
“Community-based deterrence” is an alternative approach to zero-tolerance policies that has been implemented in different ways in locations as diverse as Boston, North Carolina, and El Salvador.
“Evidence-based prevention,” which teaches life skills to children starting at an early age as well as providing teaching and parenting skills, is also a successful alternative to the War on Drugs.
Providing alternatives to incarceration is another option for communities that are willing to invest their energy and resources in drug treatment courts or neighborhood and community court systems.
“Harm reduction” emerged in the 1980s as an approach to drug use focusing on health issues rather than on reducing supply and demand. The concept has since widened to include societal harms of the Drug War itself such as high incarceration rates and violations of human rights. Included in harm reduction is the concept of treating drug addiction as a disorder rather than as a crime.
Spain is held out as a case study for dealing with the heroin crisis that began there during the 1980s, when AIDS and crime were causing great social alarm. Spain’s response plan was based on public health and harm reduction. By helping addicts, everyone in society benefited.
In the case of the formerly violent coca-producing region of San Martín, Peru, seven factors are identified that interacted to transform the community: governance, investment in infrastructure, agricultural development, social organization, international cooperation, law enforcement, and environmental sustainability. This model shines a hopeful light on dealing with complex situations by applying an integrated, holistic approach.
Scenarios for the Drug Problem in the Americas makes no conclusion or recommendation about what the best path forward should be. That is left to discussion. However, a conclusion can be made that what the document represents is a wealth of ideas about how multiple solutions to interrelated problems need to be woven together for success to arrive. In its mandate, it is a success.