Remarks to the 46th OAS Special General Assembly


William R. Brownfield
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Guatemala City, Guatemala
September 19, 2014
Mr. Chairman, ministers, Ambassadors. I want to thank President Perez and the people of Guatemala for their warm welcome. And I want to recognize the work of the OAS and CICAD in preparing this event.

After many weeks of intense work between our governments, the United States is pleased with the resolution currently before us. It accomplishes two objectives. First, it provides us with clear guidance as we update our Hemispheric Drug Strategy and Plan of Action next year. Second, it clearly articulates our region’s priorities to the broader international community as we prepare for the UN Special Session on Narcotics (UNGASS) in 2016.

The UN Special Session will be an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the UN drug-control conventions, and to engage in dialogue with civil society and other stakeholders on how the international community can unite in the fight against drug abuse and its consequences.

This resolution is an important contribution to the process. It shows our commitment to consider the full human impact of drug policy on society: social cohesion, public health, and citizen security. It respects the rights and dignity of each person.

Substance use disorders, like other diseases, can be treated. A science-based public health system is the bedrock for sound drug policy. We welcome the resolution’s call for member states to strengthen health and social services.

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.

This resolution fortifies our common front against organized crime. Criminal organizations damage our societies and threaten our institutions in our Hemisphere and beyond. The best defense against organized crime is effective, accountable justice institutions that protect citizens and afford no impunity for the powerful. Because criminal groups have no respect for national sovereignty and operate across borders with impunity, international cooperation is essential. This resolution makes that point and identifies specific actions that contribute to addressing organized crime.

Finally, this resolution is sober in assessing the complex challenges we confront and our willingness to explore alternative solutions. We must approach this process pragmatically. The international drug control conventions are not perfect, but over the past decades they have been flexible and resilient, evolving to help member states grapple with a range of challenges. We believe it is more prudent to advance evidence-based reform within the framework of the conventions than to embrace unproven ideas that undercut the system and risk greater drug abuse. We welcome the commitment by OAS member states in this resolution to share data and experiences on the impacts of new policies on human health and social well-being. 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.

The basic goals of the Conventions — facilitating access to medicine while protecting citizens from the consequences of harmful drugs — are universally acknowledged. Today, we correctly focus on implementation of these commitments with smarter, more effective and more humane policies. The United States looks forward to working together with our hemispheric partners to build on these needed reforms to help shape a better future for our citizens.

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