The outcome of the 46 Special Session of the OAS General Assembly on drug policy leaves a somewhat bittersweet taste. On the one hand, it is clear that a new hemispheric consensus on drug policy is crystallising. Gone are the days when the rhetoric of the majority of countries supported, with blind ideological zeal, a War on Drugs relying on heavily punitive measures. Instead, the discourse is slowly shifting towards health-oriented, harm-reducing, cost-effective policies which respect human rights.
In this sense, Secretary General José Miguel Insulza set the tone of the debate in his opening speech, by pointing to the incoherence of criminalising drug users while pledging to understand the issue through the prism of public health. The President of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, followed with an equally momentous speech that called for flexibility and policy experimentation as means to find balanced solutions to the complex problems associated to currently illicit substances. Both inaugural speeches reflected the spirit of the OAS Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas, a remarkably enlightening and insightful piece on this issue.
Alas, the final resolution is a little disappointing. Although it follows up on the Declaration of Antigua in calling for states to promote alternatives to incarceration, it fails to question the current global approach to drug control, which causes more damage than the drugs themselves. The resolution also fails to explicitly encourage evidence-based harm reduction efforts, or to offer perspectives for the strict regulation of currently illicit substances.
Nevertheless, the gathering showed that a growing number of countries is parting from complacency and progressing towards alternatives to failed approaches. A new consensus, based on a public health approach, the need for judicial reform, international cooperation and the strengthening of governance represents a positive, if somewhat underwhelming, pan-American viewpoint in the run-up to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs in 2016.