A recent international conference on drugs focused, for the first time in forty years, on the ways that the financial health, political stability, and national security of virtually every country in the Americas has been undermined by the drug trade.

For the first time, the leaders at the summit openly debated (although behind closed doors) whether the best way to control the whole mess was to end to the US war on drugs, and at least partially legalize, and thus regulate, the drug trade.

But it won’t happen tomorrow: In the New York Review of Books, Alma Guillermoprieto quotes President Obama (who attended the conference) as saying, "The United States is not going to legalize or decriminalize drugs, because doing so would have serious negative consequences, in all our countries, in terms of health and public safety. Moreover, legalizing and decriminalizing drugs would not eliminate the danger posed by transnational organized crime." It’s also an election year.

Guillermoprieto writes: "To a great many Latin America observers legalization does not sound like an outrageous solution at all, given what is happening on the ground. Fifty thousand people have been killed since the Mexican government launched an all-out antidrug offensive five years ago. Whole areas along the US border and southward are no longer under government control. Prisons, now full to bursting, have become operational centers for imprisoned drug chieftains throughout Latin America."

She quotes Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla as saying, "For Costa Rica the road–our road, at least–is not the war on drugs, because we have no army and we are not willing to be hooked onto that convoy of destruction, of militarism, of exorbitant expenditure, that distracts states from their efforts toward social investment. Costa Rica has already made progress in decriminalizing drug consumption, (because) we believe it’s a question of public health, and not of criminal law."

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