April 30th 2014- The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS) today inaugurated its 55th Regular Session where it discussed, among other issues, policies related to micro-trafficking and the agenda of the Special General Assembly the hemispheric institution will hold in September in Guatemala, which will be dedicated exclusively to the Global Drug Problem in the Americas.
The agenda of the CICAD meeting also includes discussions on alternatives to incarceration for drug dependent offenders and others in conflict with the law for reasons related to drugs, and the challenges and impacts surrounding the regulation of cannabis, with special attention to initiatives of this type in some States of the United States, as well as Uruguay. The meeting takes place between today and Thursday, May 1st at OAS headquarters in Washington, DC, and is being chaired by Colombia.
Hugo de Zela, Chief of Staff of the OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, participated in the opening of the meeting on behalf of the head of the hemispheric institution. De Zela said the meeting comes at a time when the drug problem in the Americas and the efforts to control abuse have taken a central position in the agendas of public policies in the region, following the presentation of the Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas (Analytical Report and Scenarios Report), by Insulza last year.
Ambassador De Zela said the debate in the Americas has been based on "two real political milestones in recent history." First, he mentioned the 2013 OAS report, which "argues that addictive drug use is a disease and the addict must be treated as such and not as a criminal." He said the Report points out that "the criminalization of the possession and use of drugs with imprisonment has generated, as one of its effects, prison overcrowding in which the levels of overcrowding are inhuman, without having a major impact in the decrease of drug trafficking or consumption."
The other political milestone mentioned by Ambassador De Zela is the Declaration of Antigua approved by the 34 active OAS member states at the OAS General Assembly in June 2013 in Guatemala, which calls an Special General Assembly focused on the discussion of the drug problem. "This is remarkable because we are referring to a set of very different countries, in different environments. These are states with very different geographies, with different ideologies, economies of different size and function, and facing the problem of drugs from different realities, since some are predominantly producers, other consumers, other transit countries and some share several of these characteristics," he said.
Ambassador De Zela highlighted as another interesting development of this process of open debate on the issue in the region, the regularization of cannabis use in the states of Colorado and Washington in the United States, and Uruguay, and emphasized the importance of Special OAS General Assembly in Guatemala in September. “That will be an occasion in which a high-level political dialogue on the drug problem in the region will take place," he said.
For his part, the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, James Cole, focused his presentation on the changes in drug policy being made by the Administration of the President of his country, Barack Obama, especially in the policy towards people who use illegal drugs and pose no greater danger to society. Deputy Attorney General Cole said his government believes that the policy of sending people to jail who have committed such offenses leads to congested detention centers, raising their costs and consuming funds that could be used to fight and chase more dangerous offenders. "We all have to accept the fact that dollars are finite, and the increasing cost of our imprisoned and detained population is draining funds from other law enforcement priorities," said Deputy Attorney General Cole, adding that "last year we spent billions in our prisons."
Cole reiterated that Washington is committed to the fight against drug traffickers and cartels and other criminals considered to be highly dangerous. “Every dollar that we the Justice Department spent on prisons –and last year we spent billions of dollar on prisons- is a dollar we can not spend supporting our prosecutors, in our law enforcement agencies, in fighting violent crimes, drug cartels, public corruption, financial fraud, human trafficking, child exploitation, just to name a few.” He also warned that if this policy is not changed, “the United States’ federal criminal system will no longer be sustainable”.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Minister of Public Health and Provision of Services of Colombia, Fernando Ruiz Gómez, recalled that the current debate on drug policy in the Hemisphere had its origin in the Summit of the Americas in 2012, when the Heads of State mandated the OAS to conduct a report on the effectiveness of current drug policies, and which will culminate at the Special General Assembly in September 2014. "This will constitute a great opportunity to try to find new consensus on drug policy in the Americas," he said.
Deputy Minister Ruiz Gómez stressed that his country has sought and considered "minimum points of consensus that require approaches different from mere repression." In this regard, he said that in the current session of the CICAD "we have put the axis of the agenda on drug trafficking in small amounts, micro-trafficking." The Colombian Deputy Minister noted that in the last session of CICAD a series of positions were taken that pointed to "recognition of the need to strengthen the public health approach in drug policy from a holistic perspective.”
Moreover, in the three-day CICAD meeting the Report of the Group of Governmental Experts will be presented, as well as the preliminary results of the Sixth Round of the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM), which will provide an overview of the review process of projects submitted on the mutual evaluation report of the 34 countries whose ultimate goal must be to assess the level of implementation of a standard set of 27 recommendations, based on the Hemispheric Plan of Action on Drugs (2011-2015) of the Hemispheric Drug Strategy of 2010. The report includes the areas of institution building, demand reduction, supply reduction, control measures and international cooperation.
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