Local Marijuana Legalization in U.S., Mexico May Impact Hemisphere-Wide Policy

Originally published in March 2014screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-12-13-07

Sporadic liberalization may have an effect on peoples’ attitudes toward drug laws. Through decriminalization, legalization and potentially legal advertising, marijuana may lose the social and criminal stigma currently associated with it. In the U.S., national and statewide polls conducted since the legalization votes in Washington state and Colorado show greater public acceptance of marijuana legalization already, and Oregon and Alaska are expected by many to legalize the substance this year. Additionally, many states may be tempted to adopt more-liberal policies toward marijuana as a result of the predicted $134 million in marijuana sales taxes that Colorado expects to collect in the coming fiscal year.

But despite the current momentum on the local level, most states and countries retain a wait-and-see attitude toward the still-contentious issue of marijuana legalization. Drug legalization remains experimental and may include unknown and unintended consequences. As a result, the future of marijuana legalization will largely depend on the implementation and enforcement successes and failures of those local governments at the forefront of decriminalization and legalization initiatives.

Drug markets, security and foreign aid

Originally published in September 2013screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-12-10-51

Key Points:

Through the delivery of aid, some countries have tried to export their preferred drug control policies and have leveraged the recipients’ need for aid to influence their policy approach.

The approaches adopted in many aid agreements seem to be insulated from the advances in the global debate about alternative drug policies and harm reduction and remains heavily focused on law enforcement.

Counter-narcotics aid can become a tool to divert attention from ineffective domestic strategies, and to refocus international attention towards the challenges faced by drug producer and transit countries.

Even if aid projects benefitting drug law enforcement were continuously effective, it would not prevent a shift or adaptation of the drug market, and it would not decrease demand in consumer countries.

The negative consequences of the aid investment in traditional drug policies, such as displacement (the so-called the balloon effect), the fragmentation of drug trafficking organisations, and turf wars, have increased levels of violence in some countries, while not substantially affecting drug supply.

The investment in foreign aid for fighting the drug market and reducing violence in other countries is, at times, a difficult measure to explain to voters: the line between an investment in security and reckless spending is a fine one in the public eye.

While long-term measures, such as prevention (including institution building, social programmes and public health measures), and harm reduction- market management, tend to be cheaper and are arguably more sustainable and beneficial over time, short- term measures, such as a traditional law enforcement dominated supply reduction approach, has a more immediate and easily quantifiable impact and is therefore politically attractive.

Policy makers need to go beyond their focus on drug law enforcement and consider holistic approaches to supply reduction policies, particularly in the realms of social policy, public health, and justice.

To increase the effectiveness of aid, donors should improve the absorption of funds by carefully selecting appropriate recipients and strengthening aid distribution structures in the recipient country.

Uruguay Marijuana Bill Portends New Era in Drug Policy

Originally published in August 2013screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-12-08-10

Earlier this month, Uruguay’s House of Representatives passed a bill legalizing marijuana and regulating the production, distribution and sale of the drug by the government. While the bill has yet to be approved by the Uruguayan Senate, its passage is expected. Uruguay would then become the first country in the world where marijuana is fully regulated from cultivation to sale.

The move sends a clear message that the existing drug prohibition regime is no longer adequate to address contemporary drug problems. Uruguay’s unprecedented initiative followed a groundbreaking report by the Organization of American States (OAS) that included a devastating assessment of the drug prohibition regime and the “war on drugs,” legitimizing a regional rethink of drug policy. The initiative is also an important milestone ahead of the U.N. General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem, which is set to take place in 2016.

Gamechanging Report on Drugs in the Americas

Originally published in May 2013screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-00-39-52

The Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas, published on 17 May by the Organization of American States (OAS), represents an opportunity to rethink the international debate on drugs and organized crime.

Mandated at the 2012 Summit of the Americas in Colombia, the report explores new approaches to the ‘war on drugs’, amid growing dissatisfaction about its enormous implementation costs and increasing levels of drug-related violence.

Overall, the report opens up the previously deadlocked debate on the best way to tackle drugs and organized crime. It considers alternatives to a ‘war on drugs’, sets standards for an evidence-based debate, and generates common understandings about the challenges that, in one way or another, are posed to all countries of the Americas. It will almost certainly impact the upcoming debates at the OAS General Assembly in Antigua, Guatemala in June 2013, and inform the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem.

Narco Wars, Part 1 and 2

Originally published in March 2013

A two-part interview discussing ongoing efforts to combat illegal narcotics, published in February and March 2013.

The UN believes Peru has become the world’s largest coca leaf producer and rivals Colombia for cocaine production. Some argue that this is as a result of the narco-war in Colombia, which has pushed traffickers elsewhere. Colombia has in recent years been successful in combatting the insurgent and drug-related activities within the country. As a result, both its economic and security situations have improved considerably. An unintended consequence of this success was that drugs and organised crime often were not eliminated but pushed out of the country, in a so-called balloon effect. The problems mitigated in Colombia have since worsened in neighbouring countries, such as Peru. However, it is hard to blame solely Colombia for these effects. Peru has traditionally been a leading coca leaf producer as the cultivation, sale, and possession of unprocessed coca leaf remains legal in the country. In order to prosecute the illegal activity of processing it into cocaine, a number of regional powers, including Colombia and Peru, have increased coordination of border control efforts and the sharing of intelligence on drug-related activities with neighbouring countries; the US has also continued their support for counternarcotic efforts in the entire region. The problem remains a regional problem and is not confined to individual countries.

Reasoning with Rebels

Originally published in September 2012screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-00-36-50

States and international organisations struggle with constructive ways of engaging non-state armed groups, such as rebels, militias, paramilitaries, and warlords. Their traditional rules of engagement focus on state actors as dominant actors in the international system, and underline the national integrity of states. In doing so, they fail to attend to the non-state nature of armed groups, and as a result their measures do not take full effect. Accordingly, the fear of conferring legitimacy on armed groups drastically limits states’ successful engagement of armed groups. This situation has given rise to a number of specialised international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) that aim at direct dialogue with armed groups. Their goal is to transform contemporary conflicts involving armed groups through negotiation and mediation, by creating peace processes with armed actors, and by introducing internationally accepted norms and standards into their behaviour.

In this way, international non-governmental organisations make a contribution to international conflict management and resolution that needs to be reflected in the policies and priorities of states and international organisations. INGOs’ expertise in the field has the capacity of supporting as well as supplementing official policy where it displays shortcomings. At the same time, INGO’s approaches contain limits and weaknesses. This research paper analyses the capacities of specialised INGOs in engaging armed groups and examines the potential for their involvement in national policy making. Understanding their potential contribution to official policy allows for the development of a more comprehensive strategy for engaging non-state armed groups utilising all available resources.

Reasoning with Rebels: the Nitty-Gritty of Engaging Armed Groups

Originally published in June 2012screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-00-33-55

Armed groups have become a more than common feature in today’s conflicts. As of 2010, all active conflicts involve at least one non-state armed actor, if not several, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program. Yet, the international community still faces severe difficulties in dealing with them.

Naturally, different strategies have been designed to deal with armed groups but none has proven to be the answer to the problem. Instead, a continuum of different actors now apply different strategies in the same place at the same time, causing a number of unintended consequences and creating new problems.

Without better communication and coordination among external actors the situations involving armed groups will not improve.