First Latin American Conference on Drug Policy

Wow. I can’t believe it has been almost two weeks since I returned from my trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the very first Latin American Conference on Drug Policy was held August 7-8. I have finally recovered from my amazing adventures, and I am so motivated for the future of global drug policy. After my visit to Buenos Aires, it has become more than obvious to me that the United States lags far behind much of the world in dealing with drug-related problems. (Perhaps because we “deal with drug-related problems” by continuing the same failed prohibition strategies over and over?) Intercambios, the organization hosting the event, did an outstanding job of bringing some international rockstars together, and providing a space for the discussion of sensible drug policies. (Special kudos to Graciela Touzé and Pablo Cymerman!)

Probably the most inspiring thing to me about this conference was the involvement and investment of major political figures at the table. Drug policy is no third-rail issue in Latin America. The everyday, in-your-face reality of failed policy is too great for them to simply ignore. It’s an issue to be discussed. And it’s a world where people understand that health problems will never be solved with criminal justice solutions. Incredible!

The conference itself was held in a building of Argentina’s National Congress, and the media was everywhere on the first morning to capture the opening panel, which included the Chief Cabinet Minister, a Supreme Court Justice and a major House Representative (Anibal Fernandez, Eugenio Zaffaroni and Graciela Giannettasio). There is support from former President Nestor Kirchner and current President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner for favorable reform, and our conference packets were complete with a copy of theCommission on Drugs and Democracy signed off on by former presidents in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.

And the topic of the day in Argentina? Drug decriminalization. Following in the footsteps of Portugal and Mexico, Argentina is primed to unburden itself of thousands of needless crimes each year. Pending an upcoming Supreme Court decision, Argentine citizens may soon find themselves among a world elite of sensible countries.

I truly wonder how our politicians can be so far behind both their own people AND the rest of the world.

Still, this is a sexy topic, and not surprisingly the conference made all the evening news shows and the front pages of major papers. There were even some LaRouche supporters protesting outside. (Same crazies, different language.)

Truly, the quality of speakers was excellent from all over Latin America. Ministers, lawyers and health experts from several countries were in attendance, as were representatives from drug users’ and coca growers’ groups. And of course, I teamed up with my buddy Aram, from Youth RISE to make sure the youth had a space for discussion. (We don’t have any SSDP chapters there yet, but the seeds have been planted!)

Even more impressive than the speakers, the conference itself was co-sponsored in part by the British and Dutch Embassies. There was a reception at the Dutch Embassy on Thursday evening, and I was invited to attend with all the conference speakers and organizers. It was, shall I say, “fabulous”? I tried to imagine all of these same important people at a reception in the US, celebrating sensible drug policy, but it seems like I will at least have to wait until Kerlikowske gets a dictionary. I sort of tongue-in-cheek asked the British Ambassador why the US Embassy wasn’t represented there with the other two. And in a truly British and diplomatic way, she explained that although they weren’t co-sponsors, the US Embassy had shown interest in and support of the conference. I think she may have been being polite, but I’m not going to let that stop me from encouraging them to be co-sponsors next year.

In any case, I was grateful to meet and mingle with all the good people working on these issues throughout Latin America – truly inspirational. The experience opened my eyes and helped me to appreciate the different approaches taken and perspectives held by not just one country, but an entire region of countries and cultures, all working toward positive change. I met so many amazing people I can’t count them. But I would be remiss to not mention meeting legislator Elsa Conde Rodríguez. She is the woman who is responsible for introducing the Mexican drug decriminalization bill that just became official this week. (Raise your hand if this woman is your hero. Props to Elsa!)

So yeah. You can see why it took me some time to recover. I didn’t even mention all the other fantastic things I got to do in the meantime.

But in case it was in question – yes, I recommend a trip to Argentina.