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A Small But Perceptible Shift in U.S. Global Drug Policy

This doesn't seem to have picked up as much traction in the U.S. as it has elsewhere, and it may not be huge, but it does represent a shift in stance on the U.S. global war on drugs.

Robert Brownfield, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, speaking at a foreign press conference in New York on October 9, while discussing the third of the four pillars of global drug policy, said (Full text here):

Things have changed since 1961. We must have enough flexibility to allow us to incorporate those changes into our policies … to tolerate different national drug policies, to accept the fact that some countries will have very strict drug approaches; other countries will legalize entire categories of drugs.

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What's changed? According to the U.K. article, it could be Colorado and Washington. Brownfield also said:

"How could I, a representative of the government of the United States of America, be intolerant of a government that permits any experimentation with legalisation of marijuana if two of the 50 states of the United States of America have chosen to walk down that road?"

Was he just channeling Colombia President Juan Carlos Santos, who said months earlier, in April, 2014:

"How do I explain to a peasant in Colombia that I have to put him in prison for growing marijuana when in Colorado or in Washington state, it's legal to buy the same marijuana?" he said. "

The rest of Santos' comment:

The world needs a more effective, fresher, more creative focus to win this war, because until now we haven't won, and the cost has been enormous."

Here's Brownfield in Guatemala a month earlier in September, addressing U.S. changes in criminal justice policy regarding drugs:

Criminal justice policy is also important. My own country is redressing past inequities in the application of the law as we institute policies to ensure fairness and proportionality in sentencing. Programs that integrate public health and criminal justice responses to offenders with substance-abuse problems have been successful in our Hemisphere. This resolution demonstrates our region’s leadership and should encourage others to adopt policies which are both more effective and more humane.

His Guatemala remarks also addressed marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington:

For our part, the United States is committed to closely monitoring and evaluating the marijuana legalization initiatives in the states of Colorado and Washington and sharing the findings with our partners in the Hemisphere. We respect the sovereign right of states to determine how their resources may be allocated. We support the concept that evaluations of drug policy are best conducted in a collaborative manner.

So is the U.S. retreating from the War on Drugs? I don't think so. I think it's just acknowledging the "facts beyond change." It can't stop the legalization train, here or elsewhere in the world. It's not going to jump on board and take a ride, but it's also not going to blow up the tracks.

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