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Latin America Changing Approach to Drug War

There are some who believe the United States' approach to the consumption of controlled substances to be too hard. The criticism is not necessarily the result of ineffective policies, but over-clogged prisons.

A Reuters report suggests that the increasingly violent and expensive war on drugs is leading certain Latin American countries to abandon U.S. policies that crack down on small-time users in order to place more emphasis on major traffickers.

Countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and others are convinced that the U.S.-led war on drugs has failed and a better approach to winning the battle is to relax penalties for possession and use of small amounts of illegal drugs.

Those who are criticizing these Latin American countries note that drug abuse and violence will only rise if the small-scale consumption of cocaine, marijuana and other drugs is tolerated. Policy makers in these Latin American countries, however, say the new laws will free up resources to focus on the bigger problem of major drug traffickers and to treat addicts.

"The courts were overwhelmed with cases of small consumers. We have a real drug consumption problem in Argentina and we cannot fix it just by punishing," said Horacio Cattani, a federal judge in Argentina.

Leading the pack on the new approach in Latin America are Brazil and Mexico, the two largest economies in this region. Brazil in particular has partially decriminalized drug use. In Mexico, carrying small amounts of any drug is no longer a criminal offense.

There are some in the United States who are rethinking the approach to the drug war. The U.S. continues to be the top global drug consumer and more than a dozen states are now allowing marijuana use for medical purposes.

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