Youth Voices Resound at Latin American Drug Policy Conference

The 3rd Latin American Conference on Drug Policy, which took place in Mexico City on September 13–14, convened scholars, policymakers, and civil society representatives from all over the region to discuss progress, setbacks, and pending challenges in Latin America’s drug policy reform movement. This diverse set of participants included many young activists, whose discerning and passionate advocacy has spurred dialogue in countries where taboo and intolerance has silenced discussion about such topics as drugs, HIV, and harm reduction.

The conference culminated in the production of a video by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and Espolea, a Mexican youth action organization. It was filmed during the two-day span of the conference and featured the youth activists gathered there. The video (above) articulates messages from the conference in unequivocal, spirited language. Statements like “We don’t need another Washington consensus on drug policy” boldly underscored the youth’s point of view on the international politics of drug control. Beyond mere protest, these statements also included several propositions for useful reforms. For example, the director of Espolea’s drug policy program, Aram Barra, called for “laws that distinguish small sellers from big dealers and ensure the equitable procurement of justice.”

Other youth organizations represented at the conference included Students for Sensible Drug Policy, TRIP! Project, Asuntos del Sur, and Youth RISE. In taking aim at drug policies, these youth groups often explicitly challenge cultures of bigotry and social exclusion manifested in the execution of punitive drug policies. As eloquently summarized in Espolea’s mission statement, youth are working to bring about “just and inclusive societies in which we can express our opinions, influence decision-making, fully exercise our rights, and play a significant role in the transformation of the reality of the world in which we live.”

As the death toll continues to rise in places like Mexico, young people are mobilizing to hasten the demise of a deeply flawed infrastructure of drug control, one constructed half a century before they were born but the repercussions of which are still acutely felt in their communities. They send a strong message: Creating and implementing drug policies that are based in health and human rights is not callow idealism, but rather an imperative that governments and societies ignore at their own disadvantage.

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