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The Global Commission on Drug Policy convenes a regional conference in Mexico City on March 6th and 7th

Latin America has become the epicenter of the debate on citizen security and drug policy, and all that brewing change will have a focus this week: The Global Commission on Drug Policy is convening the Regional Forum: Citizen Security, Drug Policy and Arms Control, to be held in Mexico City on Wednesday and Thursday, March 6 and 7. The event will bring together former heads of state, ministers, policy and technical experts to help advance what it calls “a positive agenda on citizen security for the region.”

Close to 60 strategically selected people are invited to the conference, including former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia and Ruth Dreifuss of Switzerland, as well as Mexican and Latin American top government officials and regional leaders from business, civil society, media and scientific communities. The event will be chaired by former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso and hosted by the Latin American Citizenship Institute of the Tecnologico de Monterrey System, led by Oscar Naranjo.

The conference intends to (i) discuss challenges and opportunities of moving forward on citizen security, drug policies and arms control; (ii) identify and discuss successful ideas and experiences that may contribute to strengthen citizenship and peace; (iii) propose policies and programs to reduce the different sources of violence and rebuild trust and security in the Americas.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil, chairs the Global Commission on Drug Policy
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Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil, chairs the Global Commission on Drug Policy

“The new rationale is to design more balanced and efficient policies that are appropriate to each country’s own culture and to the well-being and safety of its citizens”, said Fernando Henrique Cardoso, chair of the conference and of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. “Over the last years, the taboo that prevented debate was broken and drug policy alternatives – based on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation – were put on the table and now it is time to elaborate and implement a positive agenda.”

The conference for guests will take place at the facilities of the Tecnologico de Monterrey Campus Santa Fe and comes about at a key moment for the debate in the region: Countries in Latin America are finally willing to discuss alternative policies and programs that are more suited to their realities rather than to some policy agenda drawn up in an American bureaucrat’s office.

The current approach has proven to be unsuccessful not only because it has been unable to reduce the production, sale and consumption of illicit drugs worldwide, according to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, but also because it has brought disastrous consequences to the region in terms of public health and citizen security.

Drug Policy Is Shifting

In the past two years, a group of Latin American countries has taken the debate to an international level, calling on the international community to rethink the existing global drug control regime. Legal and policy shifts have occurred or are imminent in the countries most affected by drug-related violence: Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil and Central America, as well as in Bolivia and Uruguay.

One of the first leaders in the region to voice his disagreement with the current legal framework was President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia calling for a “global rethinking of the war on drugs.” Prior to that, then President Felipe Calderon of Mexico had stated “if the consumption of drugs could not be limited, then decision-makers must seek solutions – including market alternatives – in order to reduce the astronomical earnings of criminal organizations.”

Guatemala’s president Otto Perez Molina was next. Perez Molina is a former general who publicly requested that the international community consider alternative drug policy strategies for the region, including the option of legalization and regulation of the drug market. His call drew support from neighboring Central American countries, such as Costa Rica.

This growing regional movement on alternative drug control policies was then taken to a higher level when, for the first time ever, the issue was discussed at the Sixth Summit of the Americas held in Cartagena, Colombia, in April 2012. The delegates voted unanimously for the creation of an Inter-American System against Organized Crime, responsible for drawing up and implementing a “hemispheric action plan against transnational organized crime.”

Furthermore, the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (OAS/CICAD) was appointed to study and evaluate current anti-drug policies in the hemisphere and to explore new approaches and alternatives to strengthen and make them more effective.

Subsequently, at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2012, President Santos of Colombia, President Calderon of Mexico and President Molina of Guatemala openly criticized the War on Drugs paradigm and requested the U.N. to begin a serious debate to explore alternatives. A joint statement was published on October 1, 2012, calling on U.N. Member States to begin an assessment process of “the achievements and limitations of current drug policy, as well as in regards to the violence that the production, trafficking and the consumption of drugs generates throughout the world”.

The wave of drug policy reform in Latin America gained further strength and the global media headlines when Uruguay announced its intention to not just legally regulate marijuana, but to have the state produce and sell it. The issue is currently being discussed at Uruguay’s Congress.

Expectations were also raised in Mexico with the election of President Peña Nieto, who, while reinforcing his commitment to fight organized crime, has declared that his priority will be to reduce the violence that affect Mexican people.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy

The Global Commission on Drug Policy was convened in July 2010 and has been working to establish a road map for change in drug laws and policies. It is currently composed of 22 international leaders, including seven former presidents.

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