For the last year, the CDPC has been working with partner organizations in Mexico and the U.S. to build bridges that will help us combine our drug policy reform strategies. This work resulted in a panel discussion on building a regional drug policy reform movement in North America in the Latin/Caribbean Networking Zone, also known as Puentes Entres Vecinos/Bridges Between Neighbors. Panelists spoke about the need for a coalition to challenge the dominance of U.S. influence over North American drug policy and for Canada and the U.S. to acknowledge their role as countries that consume drugs produced elsewhere, including Mexico.
Anistla Rugama from the New York-based Harm Reduction Coalition reminded audience members that drug policy reform organizations in Canada and the U.S. need to pay careful attention to the effects of their national drug policies on Latin American countries. Lisa Sanchez, Drug Policy and Harm Reduction Programme Coordinator for Espolea in Mexico City, noted that Mexico bears the brunt of the negative effects of the U.S. War on Drugs. Latin American countries must adhere to U.S. policy but a high cost.
The criminalization of drugs puts a major strain on in-country criminal justice systems where mostly low-level producers and users are arrested and incarcerated. The U.S. continues to militarize the war on drugs by arming Mexican police to support its war with the drug cartels, while guns are smuggled into Mexico from the U.S. to arm these same cartel members. U.S. and Canadian drug policy also overlooks the serious economic reasons that some people in Latin America are involved in the drug trade.
Ann Fordham from International Drug Policy Consortium outlined reasons for being optimistic about a North American coalition. Among the various drug policy networks in the world, the IDPC in Latin America is one of the most developed and cohesive, likely because civil society in that part of the world is very engaged and empowered to discuss policy issues that affect human rights and health issues. In the last year, in Central and South America, there has also been an unprecedented wave of proposed drug policy reform at the national level. One such example is the current public debate in Argentina about removing criminal and administrative penalties for drug use and possession for personal use. We hope for the same level of public debate in Canada.
As Donald MacPherson from the CDPC stated, Canada wants to work with its North American partners to develop an analysis that shows the links between drug policies, mass incarceration, violence, and public health. We need to examine how these serious social concerns manifest differently in each country. The task is to build bridges between countries while acknowledging the deep differences of power and influence that each wields.