He will likely have to again defend that stance in Central America today. President Perez Molina has gone the furthest in the debate about legalization and has promised to rally the isthmus to question whether a focus on drugs is diverting resources from going after crime. Costa Rica has stood behind him in that call, while both leaders in Mexico (where some 50,000 people have been killed in drug violence in six years) and Colombia have also said they are open to discussions about legalization. Already Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, and Colombia have experimented with decriminalizing small amounts of drug use.
The question could arise at the Sixth Summit of the Americas to be held in Colombia in April.
Latin America has long produced the drugs that are consumed in the US, and the US has spent billions trying to eradicate their source and punish the peddlers with policies like Plan Colombia, and more recently the billion-dollar aid package known as the Merida Initiative for Mexico and Central America.
Presidents on the receiving end have largely welcomed that aid, and criticized the US for being slow to deliver. But lately they are pushing for a new approach as a way to undercut profits for ever-powerful drug gangs, find a new source of tax revenue, and end the battles between illegal organizations that have contributed to historically gruesome violence.
After decades as the willing partner, Latin America started to demand solutions in 2009, in a commission headed by three former Latin American presidents – from Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia – that concluded that the "war on drugs" had failed.
"A paradigm shift is required away from repression of drug users and towards treatment and prevention," wrote former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso in an editorial after the commission report was released.