'War on drugs' has failed, say Latin American leaders

Watershed summit will admit that prohibition has failed, and call for more nuanced and liberalised tactics

A historic meeting of Latin America’s leaders, to be attended by Barack Obama, will hear serving heads of state admit that the war on drugs has been a failure and that alternatives to prohibition must now be found.

The Summit of the Americas, to be held in Cartagena, Colombia is being seen by foreign policy experts as a watershed moment in the redrafting of global drugs policy in favour of a more nuanced and liberalised approach.

Otto Pérez Molina, the president of Guatemala, who as former head of his country’s military intelligence service experienced the power of drug cartels at close hand, is pushing his fellow Latin American leaders to use the summit to endorse a new regional security plan that would see an end to prohibition. In the Observer, Pérez Molina writes: “The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated.”

We have to find new solutions to Latin America’s drugs nightmare

Narcotics should be legally available ”“ in a highly regulated market, argues the president of Guatemala.

The Guardian, Otto Pérez Molina, April 7

Twenty years ago, I became head of intelligence services in the Guatemalan army. In this capacity, I had to co-ordinate operations with several United States and Latin American agencies dealing with the fight against drug trafficking. In those years, this was already a challenging and complex task. However, Guatemala’s security forces had the capacity to deal with the problem, intercepting drug convoys and arresting drug lords. Probably the most important victory on this front was our sophisticated and discreet intelligence operation that led to the arrest of a prominent Mexican drug lord, who was subsequently sent to Mexico for trial.

None the less, the drug lord stayed in jail only eight years, managing to escape from a high-security prison, something that in itself shows the corrupting tentacles of drug trafficking. Today, this capo is listed among the 10 richest men in Mexico, and one of the richest and most influential men on Earth according to Forbes magazine. Some analysts even consider him the most prominent drug trafficker in the world. His name is Joaquín, but he is better known for his nickname: “Chapo” Guzman, head of the Sinaloa cartel.

Three months ago, I became president of Guatemala. And contrary to the good fortunes enjoyed by Guzman, I found that the justice and security systems were not what they had been 20 years earlier. Which led me to ask myself these questions: isn’t it true that we have been fighting the war on drugs these past two decades? Then, how on earth is drug consumption higher and production greater and why is trafficking so widespread?

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  • It just made the prohibited materials more expensive and turned the trade over to criminals. By now, those criminals are so embedded in the political scene and it’s such big business, I question if any government can stop funneling cash to corrupt politicians and law enforcement.

    Teens [] say it’s easier to get marijuana than buy cigarettes, beer or prescription drugs.
    Legal, regulated substances are more difficult to obtain than illegal ones.


    Hemp cultivation in particular should be legalized and would provide huge environmental and economic benefits.
    (Dupont got hemp banned by deliberately confusing it with marijuana just to eliminate the #1 competition for their new artificial fabrics).

    It is worth remembering that the Founding Fathers were all traitors.

  • There’s no confusion. Both are the same plant, and there’s only one species in the genus. The difference is purely in horticultural practice … though there can be selection for variatals that perform better than others for the desired end.

  • They are different varieties with different traits. Hemp has so little THC you’d have to smoke an acre to get high. It’s also one of the most useful plants in the world and is grown/used worldwide without contributing to the supply of drugs.

    When confronted with the virtues and non-drug status of hemp, law enforcement usually replies that allowing hemp cultivation would give pot growers the ability to hide their marijuana in a hemp field, but this is a bogus stance. Research has shown that the hemp would pollinate the marijuana and reduce its THC content, the last thing a marijuana grower wants.

    Of course, law enforcement would have to be trained to recognize the difference, and that’s probably beyond them.
    When I was a kid, there was one all-night diner in town, so naturally they got the cops’ business.
    For 15 years, the cops walked right by a lovely flowering plant outside the diner – without recognizing it as marijuana.

    It would be so much simpler (and cheaper) to legalize, license and control it instead of prohibit it. That’s true of all drugs, not just marijuana.
    And the economic, social and human cost of prisonizing tens of thousands of people is completely uncivilized and unforgivable.

    It is worth remembering that the Founding Fathers were all traitors.

  • The genotypical and phenotypical differences in varietals are minimal until you start looking at heavily bred strains of marijuana. But the flower from a “hemp” plant would have comparable THC content to an uncultivated “marijuana” plant flower.

    Fiber hemp is grown by closely spacing seeds, which force the plants to stretch. Few lower branches and leaves means a long, single stalk that’s good for rhetting out fiber. It’s also harvested before or at the beginning of the plant’s flowering.

    Seed hemp is spaced and grown the same way that illicit marijuana would be, except that male plants aren’t culled. So a relatively squat plant with lots of branches pollinated to produce seeds.

    No one could hide marijuana in hemp fields. Fiber hemp would either be harvested before a marijuana plant or if left to also flower would pollinate the marijuana crop. (Wouldn’t reduce THC per se, just fill the illicit crop with seeds.) It obviously couldn’t be planted in a seed hemp field.

    It’s unfortunate that most of the information on this subject is published by advocates rather than horticulturists. It’s how we’re all subjected to stupid statements like “Hemp is a low THC ‘cousin’ of marijuana”.

  • but I have been gardening extensively for over 50 years and am well aware of crossbreeding, particularly closely-related plants.
    Beyond that, various sources do state there there are many varieties of hemp, some with quite low THC content.

    “Cannabis sativa L. subsp. sativa var. sativa is the variety grown for industrial use, while C. sativa subsp. indica generally has poor fiber quality and is primarily used for production of recreational and medicinal drugs.”

    “The major difference between the two types of plants is the appearance and the amount of THC although they can also be distinguished genetically.
    Oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis approved for industrial hemp production produce only minute amounts of this psychoactive drug, not enough for any physical or psychological effects. Typically, hemp contains below 0.3% THC, while cultivars of Cannabis grown for recreational use can contain anywhere from 2% to over 20%.”

    A total of 41 varieties of hemp with low levels of THC are certified by the European Union. They have, unlike other types, a very high fiber content of 30-40%. In contrast to cannabis for medical use, varieties grown for fiber and seed have less than 0.2% THC and they are unsuitable for producing hashish and marijuana. The most important cannabinoid in industrial hemp is non-psychogenic CBD with a proportion of 1 to 5%.

    There are broadly three groups of Cannabis varieties being cultivated today:

    * Varieties primarily cultivated for their fiber, characterized by long stems and little branching, extreme red, yellow, blue or purple coloration, or thickness of stem and solid core, such as hemp Cannabis oglalas, and more generally called industrial hemp.
    * Varieties grown for hemp seed oil which is high in protein and essential fatty acids and has no psychoactive properties.
    * Varieties grown for medicinal, spiritual development or recreational purposes.

    A nominal, if not legal distinction is often made between hemp, with concentrations of the psychoactive chemical THC far too low to be useful as a drug, and Cannabis used for medical, recreational, or spiritual purposes.

    “There are over 400 different varieties of hemp recorded by the Vavilov Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, that are used for the production of both fiber and seed.
    According to their classification, cultivated hemp cannot be systematically categorized but rather subdivided into geographical races or ecological form groups. It is important to note that these geographical varieties have considerable morphological and physiological differences. Nevertheless, they do share a common trait: all have the same number of chromosomes (2n=20) and readily interbreed with one another.

    “A stimulant level low enough to make the cultivars unsuitable for drug use has been a breeding goal for years, and therefore, modern hemp varieties are not only superior in vegetative growth characteristics and resistence to pests and diseases, but also their psychoactive potency is well below acceptable limits.

    “These varieties are known to produce plants containing less than 0.3% THC under normal conditions. The THC level may vary with stage of growth and increase under environmental stress conditions.

    As far as “information coming from advocates”, it goes both ways. Dupont, the DEA and the IndustrialCorrectionalComplex have a vested interest in keeping things as they are and have been ‘advocating’ since 1937. Maybe it’s time to listen to the farmer in North Dakota who probably isn’t looking to get stoned, or the many countries which allow (and control) hemp cultivation.

    I suspect one could start out with most any variety and quickly breed for CBD or THC. From my point of view, it’s really a meaningless distinction, since I believe any substance with a need for limitations should be legal, licensed and controlled rather than banned. As noted elsewhere, it’s easier for a teenager to buy pot than oxycontin.
    Legalizing marijuana would establish better control than we currently have, avoid unnecessary prosecution of casual users, eliminate a significant source of drug trade, resurrect what was once and could again be a major crop with big ecological benefits – and make it a lot easier for me to find hemp yarn for my weaving.
    Yeah, I’ve got an axe to grind. But I felt the same before I took up weaving…

    It is worth remembering that the Founding Fathers were all traitors.

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