The drug policy reform agenda in the Americas

IDPC briefing paper
May 2013

Latin America has emerged at the vanguard of efforts to promote debate on drug policy reform. For decades, Latin American governments largely followed the drug control policies and programs of Washington’s so-called war on drugs. Yet two parallel trends have resulted in a dramatic change in course: the emergence of left-wing governments that have challenged Washington’s historic patterns of unilateralism and interventionism and growing frustration with the failure of the prohibitionist drug control model put forward by the US government.

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In recent years, the regional debate on drug policy issues -- long dormant -- has surged as evident in media coverage, renewed interest on the part of academia, the emergence of grassroots initiatives such as the cannabis reform movement, and perhaps most importantly, calls for reconsideration of prevailing drug policies by a range of local and national officials.

For the first time, sitting presidents are questioning the underlining premises of the international drug control paradigm and calling for debate on alternative approaches. Their actions have had repercussions internationally, as those presidents have successfully pushed for debate within the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN).