A comprehensive report on drug policy in the Americas released Friday by a consortium of nations suggests that the legalization of marijuana, but not other illicit drugs, be considered among a range of ideas to reassess how the drug war is carried out.
The report, released by the Organization of American States walked a careful line in not recommending any single approach to the drug problem and encouraging “flexibility.”
Prompted by President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia at the Summit of the Americas last year to answer growing dissatisfaction and calls for new strategies in the drug war, the report’s 400 pages mainly summarize and distill previous research and debate on the subject.
But the fact that it gave weight to exploring legalizing or de-penalizing marijuana was seized on by advocates of more liberal drug use laws as a landmark and a potential catalyst for less restrictive laws in a number of countries.
“This takes the debate to a whole other level,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates more liberal drug use laws. “It effectively breaks the taboo on considering alternatives to the current prohibitionist approach.”
The report said “the drug problem requires a flexible approach,” and “it would be worthwhile to assess existing signals and trends that lean toward the decriminalization or legalization of the production, sale and use of marijuana.
“Sooner or later decisions in this area will need to be taken,” it said. “On the other hand, our report finds no significant support, in any country, for the decriminalization or legalization of the trafficking of other illicit drugs.”
Some analysts interpreted the inclusion of decriminalization as a thumb in the eye to the United States, the country with the heaviest drug consumption and one that has spent several billion dollars on drug interdiction in the Americas, only to find that marijuana and cocaine continue to flow heavily and that violence has surged in Mexico and Central America as the drugs move north.
The report comes two weeks before an O.A.S. meeting in Guatemala, whose president has been open to legalizing marijuana and where the central topic is drug policy in the hemisphere. Uruguay’s president has put forward a plan for the government to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana.
“The region’s leaders expressed their frustration with the limits and exorbitant costs of current policies and their hunger for a fuller, more creative debate,” said John Walsh, a drug policy analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group.
But the United States has so far rejected legalization as a solution to drug violence.
A State Department spokesman, William Ostick, said the report would be carefully reviewed and discussed with fellow O.A.S. members in Guatemala.
“We look forward to sharing our latest research and experiences on drug prevention and treatment, and to strengthening operational law enforcement cooperation with our partners around the globe in support of our common and shared responsibility for the world drug problem,” he said. “We know other leaders will similarly bring their own data, and anticipate a productive and useful dialogue.”
Kevin Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida, said advocates of drug liberalization were overplaying the significance of the report, which he said contained a lot the Obama administration would agree with.
He said a discussion of legalization was only natural, particularly since two American states, Washington and Colorado, have moved in that direction.
But the report, he said, also suggested that countries in the hemisphere needed to redouble their efforts to fight the impunity of drug gangs, something often overlooked or played down in the debate on the war on drugs. The report notes that drug organizations have atomized into a range of gangs carrying out kidnapping, extortion and other crimes.
“Institutions in the drug-producing nations are going to have to change the way they do business,” Mr. Sabet said. “You cannot only rely on reducing demand and ignore deep-seated institutional problems.”
Mr. Santos, in accepting the report in Bogota, said more study was needed. “Let it be clear that no one here is defending any position, neither legalization, nor regulation, nor war at any cost,” he said. “What we have to do is use serious and well-considered studies like the one the O.A.S. has presented us with today to seek better solutions.”
A version of this article appeared in print on May 18, 2013, on page A7 of the New York edition with the headline: Americas Coalition Suggests Marijuana Laws Be Relaxed.
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