Washington - Today U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Dick Lugar (R-IN), members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2010. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also co-sponsored the legislation. The bipartisan bill would mandate the creation of an independent commission to evaluate U.S. policies and programs aimed at reducing illicit drug supply and demand and recommend a multiyear counternarcotics strategy to address the escalating security crisis in the hemisphere fueled by the illicit narcotics trade. The legislation is similar to a House initiative authored by Congressmen Elliot Engel (D-NY) and Connie Mack (R-FL) that passed the House on December 8, 2009.

In introducing the Act, Senator Menendez commented that: "while we have had some notable successes in the hemisphere, the plague of narcotics and organized crime has surged in Mexico and Central America and remains an intractable problem in much of the rest of the region. It is imperative that we assess our efforts at home and aboard to determine where we are succeeding and where we are not. Despite the billions of dollars spent on counternarcotics efforts in the Western Hemisphere, hard data proves that the positive results have been limited and that we still face a very real challenge. We need a comprehensive and smart policy that looks at both the supply and demand side of the issue -- domestic prevention and treatment programs, as well as a long-term multiyear counternarcotics strategy - and that ultimately succeeds is turning around this epidemic of drugs and crime that is destroying families, communities, and undermining the rule of law both at home and abroad."

"Though we still have a long way to go, it is clear that efforts to fight the common threat posed to the Hemisphere by drug traffickers and organized crime are showing some positive results. It is also clear that many of these efforts should be strengthened," Lugar said. "As the creation of this commission suggests, the United States should undertake a broad review of further steps to determine what is working and reassess the implementation of those policies that are not. I am especially interested in efforts to bolster the role of the U.S. military and the intelligence community to help combat cartels headquartered in Mexico with reach in Central American countries, Venezuela and throughout the Region. New approaches might include ways to jointly deploy aviation, surveillance and intelligence assets where necessary. Ultimate victory in this war will require improving capabilities, adapting tactics to counter threats by cartels and building closer partnerships with the Hemisphere's willing Governments," Lugar concluded.

One hundred percent of the United States cocaine originates in South America and over 90 percent of the United States heroin supply originates in Colombia and Mexico. In addition, Central America and the Caribbean are key transit regions for drugs entering the US. United States demand and consumption of illicit drugs are a major factor driving the drug trade. The National Institutes of Health estimates 5.3 million Americans abused cocaine in 2008; 453,000 Americans abused heroin, and 25.8 million abused marijuana. Despite the billions of dollars spent on disrupting the narcotics trade through Plan Colombia, the Merida Initiative, the Central American Regional Security Initiative, and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, U.S. efforts have not succeeded at having the reach and impact aspired to. The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2010 aims to carefully evaluate current domestic and international policies and identify ways in which these can be restructured or improved strategically to successfully address an escalating and increasingly complex problem that threatens U.S. and international security.

Click here for a full text of the bill: http://menendez.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/WHDCBillFinal2.pdf

Summary of the bill:

• The bill creates an independent commission which will be charged with reviewing and evaluating U.S. policy regarding illicit drug supply reduction and interdiction in the Western Hemisphere, along with foreign and domestic demand reduction policies and programs. The commission is also charged with identifying policy and program options to improve existing international and domestic counternarcotics policy;

• The Commission will recommend a multiyear interagency counternarcotics strategy for the Western Hemisphere that describes the assistance required to achieve regional counternarcotics goals and a methodology for countering shifts in production and transit routes by producers and traffickers due to pressure from counternarcotics efforts;

• The commission will be composed of 10 members - 2 executive branch employees appointed by the President and 2 appointed by each of the following congressional leaders: the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Minority Leader, the Speaker of the House, and the House Minority Leader.