Ending the War on Drugs in the Americas

The American Drug Policy Coalition wishes to move from repression to policies based on human rights, social justice and public health

51st OAS Assembly

“The call for a renewed America must summon us to resolutely take the route from punishment to care (…) with drug policies based on respect for rights, social justice and public health” – Image: snapshot from Organization of American States

By María Victoria Espadathe Organization of American States (OAS) held its fifty-first regular session of its General Assembly virtually between the 10th and the 12th of November. The meeting was held under the slogan “For a Renewed America” and was hosted by Guatemala. Established in 1948, the OAS currently brings together the 35 independent states of the Americas and constitutes the main governmental, political, legal and social forum of the continent.

Pandemic exacerbates region’s difficulties

In his opening speech, the Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, emphasised the difficulties the region is facing, which have been exacerbated even further by the COVID-19 pandemic. These include injustice, violence, structural exclusion and discrimination, racism, the effects of climate change, food insecurity and forced migration. Moreover, the Secretary General specifically pointed out that “drug trafficking is continuing to threaten our security and stability.”

Multilateralism and cooperation for a recovery at all levels

In response to this complex situation, the OAS proposed that every member state should guarantee equitable access to vaccines, prioritise economic recovery, strengthen democratic systems and promote multilateralism and cooperation between countries in the region. Furthermore, the Secretary General determined that “the renewal of our (American) continent requires the active and constant participation of civil society in democratic spaces, rather than civil society just being the victim of persecution and violence.”

Dialogue with civil society

Prior to the official sessions of the General Assembly, an open dialogue was held between civil society and other social actors, the member states and the General Secretariat of the OAS. Most of the permanent coalitions accredited and approved by the OAS shared their experiences and concerns on different issues: from the position of women, youth and indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, to freedom of conscience and expression, and the protection of the civic space, amongst other things.

The role of the American Drug Policy Coalition (ADPC)

The ADPC also participated in these talks and was represented by its coordinator, Pablo Cymerman, from Intercambios Asociación Civil. The ADPC is made up of twenty-six civil society organisations based in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, as well as others with a global reach, such as Dianova International.

Since 2018, the ADPC has been working to solve the problems associated with the use, production and commercialisation of drugs considered illegal. It also seeks to foster an informed social debate to promote non-punitive policies based on scientific evidence that respond effectively to the various problems associated with drugs. The ADPC provides information to the region’s governments so they can change drug policies and thereby reduce the damage caused by current regulations.

Ending the “war on drugs” and moving from punishment to care

Fifty years after President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs and the implementation of repressive policies across the length and breadth of the American continent, the ADPC stressed that “the call for a renewed America must summon us to resolutely take the route from punishment to care (…) with drug policies based on respect for rights, social justice and public health.” Furthermore, in its statement, the ADPC urged the OAS member states to:

  • Change repressive drug policies, avoid the criminalisation of the people who use drugs and seek alternatives to imprisonment.
  • Treat the problems associated with drug use and dependence from a public health perspective, thus ensuring universal access to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, harm reduction and social integration services.
  • Ensure the quality of the services offered by providing sufficient human and financial resources for their provision, with a scientific and gender approach, in accordance with ethical principles.
  • Facilitate unrestricted access to health care for people with problematic drug use who have been deprived of their liberty by offering services similar to those available in their community.
  • Avoid policies that further endanger the lives of indigenous, rural and Afro-descendant communities who grow illegal crops by developing new indicators for the success of drug policies.
  • Ensure human rights are respected in all measures taken, including the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy.
  • Maintain spaces for dialogue with civil society in the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) and in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), taking into account the coherence of the inter-American system.

Thanks to this statement and the member organisations and networks of the CAPD laying the foundations for promoting dialogue with the member states and institutions of the OAS (as they have done in previous years), the necessary debate on drug policies in the Americas is being broadened.