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Senate Committee Demands State Department Explain Why Expensive International Drug War Hasn’t Stopped Drugs

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Top Democratic senators filed a new spending bill report that calls out the federal government over the failures of the drug war and asks the State Department to account for the billions of dollars in funding for international counternarcotics programs across Latin America that haven’t produced results.

In a draft Appropriations Committee report proposed to be attached to fiscal year 2022 spending legislation for the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs that was released this week, the panel said that, “after investing tens of billions of dollars in counternarcotics programs in Latin America since the 1980s, the availability and use of illicit drugs in the United States remains high and the incidence of violence and corruption associated with drug trafficking in the region has steadily increased.”

“Despite this, the counternarcotics strategies of successive U.S. administrations have remained largely unchanged,” it continued.

The language directs the secretary of state to submit a report within 120 days of enactment that examines the “cost-benefit analysis of prior counternarcotics initiatives in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Central America, and Mexico and the reasons why past efforts have fallen far short of projections.”

Additionally, the committee is seeking “a description of how the current strategy differs from past efforts,” “the goals and projected results of the current strategy” and “any changes necessary in U.S. domestic counternarcotics policies in order for strategies to reduce the production and trafficking of illicit drugs, and associated violence and corruption, in Latin America to succeed.”

The message from the powerful committee seems clear: the drug war has failed despite enormous resources devoted to waging it, and it’s time to explain why.

The report is part of a package of legislation to fund the federal government for Fiscal Year 2022, which Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) unveiled on Monday. It’s not yet clear when the measures will be officially considered and approved by the panel.

On the House side, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) had a related amendment approved in her chamber’s version of spending legislation that would prohibit the use of funds for aerial fumigation on drug crops in Colombia, a practice widely criticized by reform and human rights advocates. The House approved the language last session but receded to the GOP-controlled Senate, which did not agree.

The Senate Appropriations Committee report language on international counternarcotics is just one of several drug policy issues that came up in the new spending legislation and related reports.

If enacted as filed, for example, the legislation would finally allow Washington, D.C. to legalize recreational marijuana sales—in contravention of the wishes of President Joe Biden.

It would also continue an existing protection for state medical marijuana laws, call on the federal government to reconsider policies that fire employees for cannabis, criticize the restrictive drug classification system that impedes scientific research and encourage the development of technologies to detect THC-impaired driving.

Read the full text of the Appropriations Committee report passage on the drug war below:

“Counternarcotics.—The Committee notes that after investing tens of billions of dollars in counternarcotics programs in Latin America since the 1980s, the availability and use of illicit drugs in the United States remains high and the incidence of violence and corruption associated with drug trafficking in the region has steadily increased. Despite this, the counternarcotics strategies of successive U.S. administrations have remained largely unchanged. The Committee directs the Secretary of State to submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations not later than 120 days after enactment of the act including: (1) a cost-benefit analysis of prior counternarcotics initiatives in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Central America, and Mexico and the reasons why past efforts have fallen far short of projections; (2) a description of how the current strategy differs from past efforts; and (3) the goals and projected results of the current strategy. The report shall also discuss any changes necessary in U.S. domestic counternarcotics policies in order for strategies to reduce the production and trafficking of illicit drugs, and associated violence and corruption, in Latin America to succeed.”

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