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September 27, 2013 at 7:00 AM

The seed of marijuana legalization spreading in Latin America

The new approach to drug policy pioneered in Washington and Colorado is emboldening central and south American countries. 

In a speech at the United Nations on Thursday, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina said his country was beginning work on drug policy reform, and praised the American trailblazers. Here’s an excerpt from his remarks:

Guatemala commends the visionary decision of the citizens of the States of Colorado and Washington that have led the way to an approach addressing drugs centered on public health, the prevention of addiction and violence, and full respect of human rights. We acknowledge President Obama for his wise decision of respecting the voice of the citizens of Colorado and Washington, to allow these innovative experiences to provide results.

The fact that Pérez Molina – a hard-line ex-military general who waged the drug war – sounds like a speaker at a NORML conference illustrates how far, and how fast, the mood has shifted in Latin America.

MIKE SIEGEL / THE SEATTLE TIMES

MIKE SIEGEL / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Uruguay is moving to become the first Latin American country to legalize marijuana, according to an Aug. 2 news story in The Independent. In Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos said he would favor regulation if other countries did so. Former Mexican presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon also support legalization. Two of their former cabinet ministers, Fernando Gomez Mont and Jorge Castañeda, made a strong case for Mexico City to decriminalize pot in an Aug. 3 guest column published in The Seattle Times.

A report in May by the Organization of American States rationally debated legalization strategies, which would have been unthinkable even a few years ago in conservative Catholic countries.

The Initiative 502 campaign to legalize marijuana argued that legalizing here could kneecap the marijuana profits of Mexican cartels. That was mocked at times, particularly by law enforcement opponents, as naive and patronizing.

Turns out, the presidents of central and south American countries, who’ve paid a blood price for our prohibition policies, agree: legalization is a better strategy than prohibition.

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