Colombia Bill to Decriminalize Drug Crops Advances

A the first draft of a bill that would decriminalize the cultivation of illegal drug plants in Colombia, including coca, opium poppies, and marijuana, was approved by its lower house of congress last Wednesday, according to Colombia Reports.

coca eradication plane spraying herbicides in Colombia (wikimedia.org)
An incident in the country's northeast that same day underscored the need for a new approach in Colombia. Suspected leftist guerrillas attacked a police coca eradication team, leaving at least seven dead and 12 wounded. Police sources blamed fighters of the FARC, which has been engaged in an insurgency against the central government since 1964 and finances its operations at least in part through the coca and cocaine trade, for the attack in North Santander province.

Rep. Hugo Velazquez, who sponsored the bill, said the country cannot progress with "the failed drug policy pursued by Colombia and the United States."

Since the adoption of Plan Colombia in 1999, the US has spent more than $7 billion to fight the drug war in Colombia. While the effort has had some success -- the number of hectares cultivated is down from its peak early in the last decade -- that success has come at a high cost, not only in dollars, but in lives lost in the conflict, hundreds of thousands of internal refugees, and environmental damage from spraying crops with herbicides.And while, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, total cocaine production has declined by about one-third in the past decade, coca cultivation has increased in Peru, where its extent may now exceed Colombia's.

Under current Colombian law, persons convicted of growing illicit drug crops face between four and 12 years in prison. Of the 105,000 people in prison in the country, some 23,000 are there for either growing or trafficking in drugs.

"The important thing is that we have the opportunity to listen to congressmen from drug producing regions and hear from different government officials, not just those in opposition [to the bill] with Minister of Justice Juan Carlos Esguerra," Velazquez said, adding the drug crop production is an agricultural issue as well as a legal one.

While Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has been a loud advocate of putting drug policy reform on the international agenda, he has been less interested in his own country leading the way. That position was reflected by Justice Minister Esguerra, who reiterated that the government is staunchly opposed to the bill.

The country is at a "turning point in the fight against drugs" and this is not the time to make policy changes, he said. "It's not the time to anticipate a set of rules on this issue. This cannot work like the Lone Ranger," he added.

But the bill remains alive.

Bogota
Colombia
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Legalization

I have for a long time advocated the legalization of drugs. It is the illegality of the drug that spurns criminal enterprises, billions of dollars in profits, funds the sale of guns for legal (NRA) and the illegal manufacture of guns, and has cost, worldwide, countless thousands of lives. The drug trade is anchored on the supply side and the demand side in poverty; a disproportionate number of poor people are users/addicts and due to the lack of opportunities for economic viability, too often, they are the sellers and distributors of drugs. Instead of the government "getting-out" in front of this issue thereby determining how, if drugs would be legalized, the landscape of this would be (i.e., laws for distribution, legal penalties, taxes or restricting manufacturing, revenue streams, etc.) they have persisted in this FAILED war on drugs that was first alluded to by President Nixon in 1969. Kudos for Rep. Valasquez in Colombia who called the "war on drugs" a failed policy pursued by Colombia and the U.S. !!!! Even Calderon (and hopefully his successor) would seek to find a solution to the problem because in the country of Mexico the cartels, who are distributors for the U.S., have a death toll of 50,000 the very same amount of dead that are on the wall monument for the American dead in Vietnam. In order to find a solution what must be separated when talking about the problem is the illegality and the health problems caused by usage. Only then can you find an answer. It must be done before the privatization of the Prison Industry (the recipients of illegality) become entrenched in "K" street lobbying. 

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