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Opinion: Save Latin America -- end the war on drugs

Opinion: Save Latin America -- end the war on drugs
Mexican soldiers stand guard outside Chilapa in the state of Guerrero, a combat zone for drug gangs, in May 2015. (Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images)

Good morning. I'm Paul Thornton, The Times' letters editor, and it is Saturday, March 12. Readers in Arizona (most of it, anyway) and Hawaii, ignore this sentence: Don't forget to set your clocks ahead one hour tonight. But before we time-travel into the future, let's take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Stop imprisoning drug users. End executions for drug-related offenses. Set drug laws based on science, not ideology. And most important, decriminalize and regulate drugs.

These prescriptions for ending the failed war on drugs are often scripted by activists who operate unconstrained by the politics that hinder lawmakers from implementing better policy. But the latest call for reform in The Times doesn't come from a medical marijuana proponent or policy wonk, but from three ex-presidents from parts of the world ravaged by drug violence.

In a Times op-ed article, former Presidents Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico), Henrique Cardoso (Brazil) and César Gaviria (Colombia) warn that a United Nations effort to fix global drug policy is foundering:

For nearly a decade, we have urged governments and international bodies to promote a more humane, informed and effective approach to dealing with “illegal” drugs. We saw a major breakthrough a few years ago, when the United Nations agreed to convene a special session of the General Assembly to review global drug policy. It is scheduled to begin April 19.

Unfortunately, this historic event — the first of its kind in 18 years — appears to be foundering even before it gets off the ground. What was supposed to be an open, honest and data-driven debate about drug policies has turned into a narrowly conceived closed-door affair.

In the lead-up to next month's session, the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna held a series of preparatory meetings with its 53 member countries. The commission took responsibility for crafting a declaration to be adopted by all 193 U.N. members of the General Assembly, and should finish next week.

But most of these commission-led negotiations have been neither transparent nor inclusive. Input from key U.N. agencies working on health, gender, human rights and development — and the majority of U.N. member states — was excluded. Likewise, dozens of civil society groups from around the world were shut out of the meetings.

Further, the draft declaration represents a setback rather than a step forward. It does not acknowledge the comprehensive failure of the current drug control system to reduce supply or demand. Instead, it perpetuates the criminalization of producers and consumers. The declaration proposes few practical solutions to improve human rights or public health. In short, it offers little hope of progress to the hundreds of millions of people suffering under our failed global drug control regime.

If the U.N. wants to seriously confront the drug problem in a way that actually promotes the health and welfare of humanity, here are the proposals the General Assembly should adopt.

First, all U.N. member states should end the criminalization and incarceration of drug users — an essential step toward strengthening public health, upholding human rights and ensuring fundamental freedoms. Second, all governments should immediately abolish capital punishment for drug-related offenses. It is a medieval practice that should be stamped out once and for all. Third, U.N. member states must empower the World Health Organization to review the scheduling system of drugs on the basis of science, not ideology.

Most important, diplomats attending the special session on drugs next month must confront the obvious failure of most existing drug laws. The only way to wrest control of the drug trade from organized crime, reduce violence and curb corruption is for governments to control and regulate drugs.

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What it's like to grow up Darden after the O.J. Simpson trial: "I worried the students at my predominantly black high school would harass me when they found out about my father," says Jenee Darden, daughter of Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden. She also writes: "On the flip side, black people who suspected I was related to 'that Darden' and believed Simpson was guilty would whisper conspiratorially in my ear. 'I think he did it,' they'd say, 'but don't tell anyone I told you that.'" L.A. Times

L.A. City Hall took away homeless people's "tiny houses." Does it have a better idea for helping them? The city, which contends the temporary sheds dotting sidewalks are health and safety nuisances, wants a permanent solution to housing Los Angeles' 25,000 homeless people. But interim fixes like tiny houses, says The Times' editorial board, are crucial until the city can implement its long-term plan. L.A. Times

She showed up to the Anaheim KKK rally to protest and bear silent witness to hate. Violence broke out and the largely ignored racist group might have gotten the attention it sought, but Orange County freelance writer Melodye Shore argues that peaceful protests "send a message to the targets of the KKK's intimidation: We have your back." L.A. Times

Time for the obligatory Donald Trump blurb: Is he a fascist? Columbia historian Robert O. Paxton, an expert on fascism, tells Patt Morrison that there are elements of Trump's rhetoric that echo Mussolini and Hitler, but the Republican front-runner appears to be mostly a "blustery, egocentric blowhard. And this comes naturally to him and it has worked." Listen to the interview podcast or read an an edited transcript.

GOPers for Trump would rather win than protect conservatism. Columnist Jonah Goldberg looks back at the modern history of conservatism, starting with Barry Goldwater's principled 1964 presidential campaign that ended in historic defeat, and notes that the movement has shifted strategy from prioritizing core values at the expense of victory to the opposite now that Trump's Republican nomination appears to be inevitable. L.A. Times

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