Marijuana should be made legal, urges the Organization of American States. It would be progress. Yet the drug war would not end with that alone.

Should marijuana be marketed legally in the future? The demand sounds wrong to many. Yet a new report from the Organization of American States (OAS) is creating new political impetus for the idea, and with good reason: The criminalization of the trade is fueling the drug war in the smuggling countries of Latin America. If cannabis were to be legalized, the basis for the brutal violence, it is hoped, would at least be partially eliminated.

The OAS report contains interesting numbers: Only 1 percent of the revenue that is generated by illegal drugs goes to the producers of the hot goods — the farmers and laboratory workers. Those who control the trade pocket 65 percent of the money. Smuggling across international borders is dangerous, and the leaders of the illegal marketing organizations allow themselves to be highly paid for the significant risk of loss.

If the business were legal, according to the calculations of experts, the reasons behind the exorbitant margins would disappear. If anyone could grow and sell marijuana, there would be competition, the prices would fall and the profits would follow. It appears that the states of Colorado and Washington, where the use of marijuana for non-medicinal purposes has just been legalized, show the first signs of this trend in the U.S.

If other consumer states were to follow suit, drug dealing would soon no longer be a business worth dying for. That is the great hope that lies behind the discussion of legalization.

War on Drugs Intensified the Violence

The military strategy behind the war on drugs, declared more than 40 years ago by U.S. President Richard Nixon, has failed. Power of the government is undermined in many transit countries in Latin America. In Mexico, for example, former President Felipe Calderón was sending approximately 80,000 soldiers and policemen into the streets since 2006 with the task of fighting the drug cartels. Since then, tens of thousands have died. No one knows the exact figure, but there is talk of there being 50,000 to 70,000 dead. A further 10,000 people have disappeared, about 120,000 of them in the flight from violence.

Frequently, the dead are not identified. Nonetheless, the Mexican authorities basically assume that it is a case of criminals falling victim in battles between rival drug gangs — even if, aside from bizarre messages left behind by murderers at the scene of the crime, there is no evidence. The perpetrators get away without punishment most of the time. Drug cartels are a part of Mexican society, says Edgardo Buscaglia, who has researched organized crime in the country for years. The gangs are thought to control about 70 percent of the municipalities in the country.

It is clear to everyone that things cannot continue this way. Many nations, therefore, have pressed for an open legalization debate in the past, primarily Latin American ones, since they suffer worst from the violence.

The question of how things could be improved is also in the OAS report. The organization calls for replacing military deployment with a more proactive social policy. “Most drug producers, traffickers, and dealers, including the hired criminals of organized criminal gangs, were drawn from vulnerable segments of our societies and, in most cases, have suffered from unequal opportunities, poor levels of schooling, and a history of family poverty,” the report determines. Consequently, one does not combat violence with military intervention, but rather through education, jobs and improved opportunities for all.

Hence, the OAS is at last officially recording an important insight. But one should not be deceived: The legalization of marijuana alone will not automatically end the bloody drug war in the South American transit countries. Cocaine and heroin will continue to remain illegal, and the smuggling of them lucrative. Mexico’s drug cartels have long since specialized in other fields of business. Crime researcher Buscaglia says they make more profit in human trafficking and the smuggling of pirated goods and materials like petroleum than from drug deals, not to mention the profits from blackmail, kidnapping and financial fraud.

Seven cartels in Mexico fight over smuggling routes and market share. They will continue to do this in the future. Only a strong nation with reliable institutions can stand up against this effectively, a fact the OAS report admits. In addition, it calls for better health policies in consumer countries.

It will take a long time to implement all of this, but the OAS has made an important start by initiating an open debate. Currently, the trend toward legalization appears to be irreversible.