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Study urges serious discussion on legalization of marijuana

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A study by the Organization of American States on marijuana and other illicit drugs was hailed as historic by  drug-policy  reform  advocates.

TED S. WARREN / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

A study by the Organization of American States on marijuana and other illicit drugs was hailed as historic by drug-policy reform advocates.

LIMA, Peru -- An Organization of American States study commissioned in response to calls by some Latin American leaders for rethinking the war on drugs advocates serious discussion of legalizing marijuana.

"Sooner or later, decisions in this area will need to be taken," the study released Friday says, although it makes no proposals or specific recommendations on any issue.

The $2.2-million study also notes "no significant support" was found among any of its 35 member nations for the "decriminalization or legalization of the trafficking of other illicit drugs," including cocaine, which most directly affects the region.

The report was hailed as historic by drug-policy reform advocates who call the more than $20 billion Washington has spent on counter-drug efforts in Latin America over the past decade a damaging waste of taxpayer money.

"This is the first time any multilateral organization anywhere has done something like this," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

The study arose from last year's Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, and was presented by outgoing OAS Secretary-General Jos© Miguel Insulza on Friday in Bogot° to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has said he smoked marijuana as a college student at the University of Kansas.

The study examines four different scenarios for confronting the illicit drug trade, which has fuelled violent crime and corruption, especially in drug production and transit countries, including destabilizing governments.

The most controversial scenario would involve countries unilaterally abandoning the fight against drug production and trafficking in their territory in order to reduce violence.

President Otto P©rez Molina of Guatemala, a hard-hit cocaine-transit country along with neighbouring Honduras, made headlines before the Cartagena summit when he said he was tempted to put his country on such a path.

The report's authors conclude, however, "that there is no absolute link between the drug problem and the insecurity experienced by many citizens in the Americas."

The 400-page study emphasizes drug abuse as primarily a public health issue and suggests drug abusers should not be criminally prosecuted but rather treated as ill. "Decriminalization of drug use needs to be considered as a core element in any public health strategy," it says.

That echoes the approach of the U.S. government. But it diverges from Washington's long-standing opposition to legalizing marijuana despite the fact voters in two states -- Colorado and Washington -- have done that.

Nadelmann said the U.S. government has in the past suppressed any multilateral attempt to promote discussion of alternatives to the current drug war. "The notion that the OAS would actually convene 50 people, including a number of my allies and people associated with reform, and then have this open-ended discussion and then produce a report that was not subject to intensive political review and censorship is actually extraordinary," he said from New York.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2013 A29

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