America Should Consider New Strategies in the War on Drugs As Joe Biden Meets With Latin American Leaders

Despite Vice President Joe Biden’s insistence that there is “no possibility the Obama administration will change its policy on (drug) legalization,” Latin American leaders will meet on March 24th to discuss the possibility of decriminalization. Though Biden’s arguments against legalization are unsubstantial, the effort to open up the issue to serious discussion may prove to be futile. Regardless of what one thinks about the question of legalization, the U.S. should be open to new strategies in the faltering war on drugs, a war with no end in sight.

Biden’s statements came after a meeting with President Felipe Calderon during a trip to Mexico and Honduras. Biden also met with the candidates for Mexico’s upcoming presidential elections, as well as the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.

Latin America and the U.S. have mostly co-operated on the war on drugs for decades, and according to Biden, the U.S. has provided about $361 million in anti-crime aid under the Central America Regional Security Initiative. In Mexico alone, the Calderon administration has received millions of dollars from the U.S. in support of a militarized fight against drug cartels. But drug-related violence has cost at least 47,515 lives in the country between December 2006 and September 2011, and recently many Latin American leaders are challenging the efficacy of the war on drugs and requesting that the possibility of legalization be discussed. 

Biden called the discussion a “totally legitimate debate,” but said that it’s only worth debating “in order to lay to rest some of the myths that are associated with the notion of legalization.”

The vice president reiterated Washington’s stance that legalization is not an option for Latin American countries because of the improbability that “government apertures for the distribution of the drugs” would be provided. 

This argument, however, makes little sense in light of the fact that such bureaucracy would likely cost a small fraction of what is spent to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate millions of people for drug law violations.

I'm not making the argument that legalization is the quick-fix solution to the failing war on drugs. But Latin America's effort to discuss and propose alternative strategies must be mirrored by the U.S. in order to solve the decades-long problem that has cost thousands of lives and millions of dollars.  

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons