Latin America Rethinks Drug Policies

During the 1980s and 1990s, as the United States battled the scourge of cocaine throughout the hemisphere, Washington did most of the talking. Latin American governments were forced to listen and fall in line. The American government had the most money to throw at the problem, the toughest justice system and the biggest bully pulpit.

In recent years, that top-bottom approach has been upended as countries in the region have begun to develop new strategies to fight drug trafficking and discourage the use of narcotics. The initiatives that are being discussed and applied represent a welcome break with the largely failed traditional approach, which has emphasized prohibition and punishment. A special United Nations General Assembly meeting next April on drug policy has provided an added incentive to develop fresh approaches to the problem, including sentencing reforms and legalization.

“There is near unanimity that the focus needs...

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