Photo: Al Jazeera
ENDING the consumption and the trafficking of illegal drugs is “impossible”, according to Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s outgoing president. In an interview with The Economist Mr Calderón, whose battle with organised crime has come to define his six years in office, said that countries whose citizens consume drugs should find “market mechanisms” to prevent their money from getting into the hands of criminals in Latin America.In an interview recorded last month for this week’s special report on Mexico, Mr Calderón said: “Are there still drugs in Juárez [a violent northern border city]? Well of course, but it has never been the objective…of the public-security strategy to end something that it is impossible to end, namely the consumption of drugs or their trafficking…
“[E]ither the United States and its society, its government and its congress decide to drastically reduce their consumption of drugs, or if they are not going to reduce it they at least have the moral responsibility to reduce the flow of money towards Mexico, which goes into the hands of criminals. They have to explore even market mechanisms to see if that can allow the flow of money to reduce.
“If they want to take all the drugs they want, as far as I’m concerned let them take them. I don’t agree with it but it’s their decision, as consumers and as a society. What I do not accept is that they continue passing their money to the hands of killers.”
Not so long ago these comments would have been unthinkable. Cast your mind back to 1998, when the UN Drug Control Programme (since absorbed by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC) held a session on the “world drug problem” entitled: “A Drug-Free World: We Can Do It”. Since then it has become painfully clear that, so far at least, We Cannot Do It. Since 1998 global consumption of both cannabis and cocaine has risen by about 50% and opiate consumption has nearly trebled, according to the UNODC’s own figures.
Mr Calderón’s comments sum up what seems to be a growing consensus: stopping or even seriously reducing drug consumption has so far proved impossible, so it is time to focus on ways of making that consumption less harmful. That sort of thinking has been fashionable for a long time on the demand side, with innovations such as needle exchanges and methadone replacement now common in many rich countries. The next step is to explore legal ways of managing the supply side, as Colorado and Washington have recently voted to do.
Sitting presidents such as Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala are pushing for a rethink. As a result of this agitation the Organisation of American States, a regional body, is compiling a report on drug policy which is expected to explore alternatives to the current regime. It will be interesting to see if Mr Calderón, who is widely expected to take up a post at Harvard after leaving the presidency in December, gets bolder still in his retirement.
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