Young Latin Americans Support a New Approach to Drugs

Latin Americans are no longer asking for permission to implement reform but leading on their own.

The drug policy debate in Latin America has been accelerating lately. A new study underlines this trend by showing that young, urban Latin Americans favor a re-assessment of current policies.

The study, published by the think tank Asuntos Del Sur, reveals that in many cities in the region, young people support decriminalization of minor possession offenses, a public health–focused approach to drug use, and other alternative policies. The insights are based on more than 4,000 interviews of people between the ages 18 to 34 living in Buenos Aires, La Paz, Santiago, Bogotá, San Salvador, and Mexico City.

Latin America has assumed a leading role in the drug policy debate: Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala successfully pushed for a UN summit in 2016 to discuss alternative approaches to the war on drugs, while Uruguay recently implemented monumental marijuana reforms.

The legalization of marijuana is supported by a majority of young urbanites in Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. This mirrors similar trends in the United States. In October, Gallup showed that 67 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 to 29 backed legalization, with clear majorities among 30-to-64-year-olds as well.

Seventy percent of those interviewed in Santiago, 66 percent of those in Buenos Aires, and 50 percent of those in Mexico City believe that alternative approaches similar to those recently outlined by the Organization of American States (OAS) would have a positive impact in their countries. Support is not as robust among young La Paz natives or San Salvadorans, who only favor decriminalization by 34 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

In addition, young residents of Buenos Aires (64 percent), Santiago (49 percent), Bogotá (48 percent), and Mexico City (50 percent) support treating illicit drugs as a public health issue over failed criminal justice approaches, which have resulted in health crises and mass incarceration.

As demonstrated by recent developments, Latin Americans are no longer asking for permission to implement reform but leading on their own. This survey shows that young, urban Latin Americans value such leadership.

Download the complete study (in Spanish) at the Asuntos del Sur website.

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