US Drug Policy Rankles Latin American Leaders

U.S. and Latin America officials met this week to assess the regional impact of drug legalization laws enacted in Washington and Colorado.

Representatives from Mexico and Colombia and Costa Rica met with U.S. counterparts at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss their concerns about the easing of drug laws in states such as Colorado and Washington.

In November, voters in Colorado and Washington approved the sale and recreational use of marijuana without a prescription or medical condition. California is another state that has loosened its law on marijuana, but the Golden state only permits the sale of the drug to people who have a prescription.

These laws have garnered criticism from many countries in Latin America, especially those that suffer from rashes of violence related to the global drug trade. Some 70,000 people have died in the last six years in Mexico stemming from the country's drug war and the trade has plagued Colombia for decades.

We’re still waiting to see how the feds take action in Colorado and Washington...Their response will relay a hard message with other states and the rest of the world.

— Beau Kilmer, coordinator of the Rand Corporations drug policy research center

The U.S. federal government still opposes marijuana legalization and argues that these laws promote drug addiction and crime.

“The U.S. continues to oppose drug legalization because evidence shows our shared drug problem is a major public health and safety threat, and drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated,” Berit Hallberg, a spokesman for the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDPC), told Fox News Latino.

The legalization of marijuana also doesn’t prevent violence or curb cartels operating in drug producing countries, according to ONDPC. The agency's research indicates that legalization would not dramatically reduce Mexican drug trafficking revenue, with the gross revenues to Mexico’s cartels from marijuana likely less than $2 billion a year.

Mexican and Colombian cartels combined total yearly profits are between $18 to $39 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Some drug policy experts argue that marijuana legalization in certain U.S. states makes the country look hypocritical because of the U.S.-led global war on drugs, which includes initiatives in the region to combat trafficking and the number of anti-drug agreements signed with Latin American countries in the past.

The U.S. has given over $7 billion to Colombia since 2000 through Plan Colombia – a program to combat trafficking and left-wing guerrillas – and in 2008 the U.S. provided Mexico with more than $1.5 billion in the Merida Initiative, with millions more going to fight drug cartels throughout Central America.

“To go against the treaties, I don’t blame the countries if they are angry,” said Calvina Fay, the executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation, based in Washington, D.C. “It’s very demoralizing to the leaders in Mexico who have to put their lives at risk.”

Some countries throughout Latin America have followed suit in the conversation of legalizing drugs. Uruguay considered a proposal to to legalize marijuana, while Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and Belize  last year called for an international debate on drug policy.

Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina has steadfastly pushed for a legalization as a way to reduce violence and crime in his country.

"It’s the first time that a president in power dares to say that other routes have to be found for the war on drugs," Pérez Molina said in a Fox News Latino interview last year.

"Something about what we are doing is not working," he added. "I find that drug trafficking has increased; that crime has increased; that violence has increased."

Other policy experts claim that it is up to the U.S. to take the lead in what it does with its own drug policy and problem.

As the largest consumer of illicit drugs in the world, the U.S. is in a tough position on how to define its drug enforcement stance, said Beau Kilmer, the coordinator of the Rand Corporation's Drug Policy Center.

“We’re still waiting to see how the feds take action in Colorado and Washington,” Kilmer said. “Their response will relay a hard message with other states and the rest of the world.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this piece.