By Philip Robins for Open Democracy. Rightly or wrongly, the Middle East enjoys a reputation for being a region that bucks the world trends. Nowhere is this more marked than in relation to illicit drugs. While liberal commentators look forward with some expectation to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) this April, with the possibility that at very least the global proscription regime will soften, in the Middle East the opposite seems to be happening. In countries as diverse as Dubai, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the ‘Americanisation’ of global policy seems as engrained and as inflexible as ever.

To some extent this disparity is a reflection of the relative maturity of the public policy process, within which the international drugs sector may be understood. For example, it is no surprise that the most intense debates about liberalising the global drugs regime originate in Latin America. The brutal and extensive loss of life stemming from the criminalisation of drugs trafficking has widely afflicted Mexican society. Meanwhile, the great and the good of south American politics have called for a new page to be turned as far as restricting youth consumption has been concerned. In 2013, Uruguay became the first country to legalise the production, sale and consumption of marijuana.

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