Latin conference on drugs faces controversial proposal

Representatives from all major countries in Latin America are in San José today for a three-day conference to discuss how governments can combat international drug trade and crime.

Among numerous issues, developments and strategies on the agenda for these representatives, one controversial topic is the proposal that countries decriminalize the trade and use of drugs.

The conference is the 52nd Regular Session of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission, also known by its Spanish acronym CICAD.

This commission is a subsidiary of the Organization of American States, and it serves as a forum where countries in the Western Hemisphere can discuss how to control drug use and fight crime, especially drug cartels.

Earlier this month, President Laura Chinchilla alongside leaders from Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras signed a statement calling on the commission to study the ramifications of legalizing some drugs, specifically marijuana.

A press release from Casa Presidencial said that countries in Central America are struggling to come up with a strategy to fight drug crime. It also said that enforcing these policies is difficult when every country is policing drugs differently, and Central American governments need to synchronize their efforts.

Although it is unlikely that the commission has even started that study yet, decriminalizing at least some drugs will be one of the key topics according to a press statement from the president’s office.

A recent CID/Gallup survey suggests that the vast majority of Costa Ricans oppose such a measure.

This poll, conducted in May of this year, included a special section on this theme in response to Guatemalan President Otto Pérez announcing a plan to legalize drugs.

In that poll of about 1,200 Costa Ricans, 89 percent strongly disagreed with the idea of legalizing the consumption of drugs. Only about 9 percent tepidly agreed with the proposal and less than 1 percent strongly agreed.

In that same survey, about 66 percent of respondents believed that drug consumption would increase dramatically if drugs were legalized. Another 20 percent said that consumption would increase either “a little” or “some.”

The survey also found that 81 percent of respondents believe that crime would increase if drugs were decriminalized.

The tone of this conversation at the conference will be more along the lines of offering medical treatment to drug addicts instead of prison time and not outrightly legalizing drugs, according to a press release.

Additionally, representatives will hear presentations on drug cartels’ objectives and operations, developing comprehensive systems to deal with both addicts and crime, results of policy shifts in various countries and other themes.

Costa Rica’s deputy corruption prosecutor, Juan Murillo Miranda, will give a presentation on how to counter the corrupting influence of drugs within the government.

The conference will take place at Hotel La Condesa in Heredia, and it will conclude Friday.

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