Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Global Impact: OAS Report Sends Wrong Message to Its Membership Re: Decriminalization of Illegal Drugs

According to EFE, “the decriminalization of drug use should be considered on the same basis as any public health strategy,” the Organization of American States (OAS) said on Friday (May 17) in a summary of a report to be released next week.

Regional heads of state and governments commissioned the study during the April 2012 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.

OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza will formally present the 400-page document today (May 20).

COMMENT: As background, OAS Secretary-General Insula is a former foreign minister and minister of the interior in Chile. He is also a member of Chile's Socialist Party, which gives us an insight into his advocacy for the decriminalization of illegal drugs.

Sadly, the OAS defines “an addict as a chronically ill person who should not be punished ... but adequately treated. While it is not possible to radically change the treatment of addicts overnight, at least transitional methods should be begun, such as drug courts, substantive reduction of sentences and rehabilitation,” Insulza says in the summary distributed on Friday.

Unfortunately, in advocating that illegal drugs be decriminalized, it is interesting to point out that the OAS does NOT include other substance abuses (e.g., addiction to alcohol) in its definition, which suggests that the OAS is not effectively addressing all forms of substance abuse. 

How is the addiction to alcohol different? Drunk drivers continue to go to prison for their bad choices, but why do drug addicts get a free pass?

Seemingly, the OAS is giving the addiction to illegal drugs a "get out of jail free card," while not addressing the addiction to alcohol.

Although the OAS touts the success of "drug courts" in a number of countries, including the US, the majority of drug court research supports the concepts of reduced recidivism rates and cost savings, the methodologies of these studies have come under fire. 

Moreover, opportunity costs associated with wraparound services—rehabs, transitional living facilities, etc.—which may promote reductions in recidivism rates are rarely included in cost analyses of drug courts, nor are other factors associated with crimes committed by offenders who have their freedom during drug court dockets, versus incarcerated offenders under the traditional judicial model. 

At best, "drug courts" are a poor example of criminal justice systems who are more interested in "coddling" and affording defendants much more due process rather than controlling crime.

The reality is that so many societies today are predominantly "impaired" by illegal and prescribed drugs, which is one explanation as to why global economics has such a low level of productivity.

What is most interesting about the OAS proposal is that it hardly has the support of ALL members of the OAS even as a large number of members continue to embrace rigorous anti-drug public policies and severe criminal penalties for drug consumption, possession and trafficking.

Addressing the violence associated with drug trafficking “in the countries of cultivation, production and transit,” the document also calls for “a necessary and urgent strengthening of all the institutions and the presence of the State.” Unfortunately, such strategies are virtually insurmountable.

It is extremely imprudent for an organization such as the OAS to take a decriminalization approach to illegal drugs, in the face of scientific evidence that marijuana alone is a "gateway" drug, particularly when not all OAS members are in agreement with decriminalization.

Moreover, law enforcement officers throughout Latin America continue to be seriously injured and killed while enforcing anti-drug statutes. Have all of these officers been injured and died in vain?