Britain's former ambassador to Colombia at the height of the US-assisted war against the so-called Colombian cartels has called for the full legalization of drugs. In a July 4 opinion piece in London's Guardian newspaper, Sir Keith Morris renounced the war on drugs as "unwinnable, costly, and counterproductive." In so doing, he joins a growing number of international political figures who have broken with prohibitionist orthodoxy, including the presidents of Mexico and Uruguay.
Citing his bitter and disillusioning experience in Colombia -- "I believed there was a point to that war" -- Morris has come full circle:
"There has been a cultural change which has led to the recreational use of drugs being seen by the younger generation as normal," wrote Morris. "It is now part of a global consumer society that demands instant gratification. Laws cannot change that. All they can do is create a $500 billion criminal industry with devastating effects worldwide. It must be time to start discussing how drugs could be controlled more effectively within a legal framework.
"Decriminalization, which is often mentioned, would be an unsatisfactory halfway house, because it would leave the trade in criminal hands, giving no help at all to the producer countries, and would not guarantee consumers a safe product or free them from the pressure of pushers. It has been difficult for me to advocate legalization because it means saying to those with whom I worked, and to the relatives of those who died, that this was an unnecessary war. But the imperative must be to try to stop the damage."
Morris also questioned the judgment of US leaders when it comes to drug policy. Describing all of the suffering and destruction imposed on Colombia without making a dent in the drug traffic, Morris wrote: "After so much effort and many lives lost, the trade was still as great as ever. I began to wonder about the chances of success and also about the obsessive attitudes of our leading ally. My concerns were justified. US policy on Colombia came to be dominated by drugs."
In an interview with the Guardian the same day, Morris elaborated on his position in light of the ongoing shift toward cannabis decriminalization in Great Britain. "The government believes in what works," he told the Guardian. "Drug prohibition does not work." The 66-year-old founding chairman of the British & Colombian Chamber of Commerce added: "I'm encouraged that the government has started to relax the regime for cannabis. Now that the principle of prohibition has in practice been abandoned, I hope the government will start a serious examination of the best way of controlling drug use within a legal framework. It will not be easy. Hard drug users may have to register with their GPs and get their drugs on prescription," mused Morris.
"Some soft drugs might be sold under a regime like that used for alcohol and tobacco and, as [former Labour cabinet minister in charge of drug policy] Mo Mowlem has proposed for cannabis, they could be tested for purity and taxed," said Morris. "The revenue would go to medical research and greatly improve education and treatment. There will be costs, probably, initially at least, greater use and addiction and problems quite unforeseen. But the benefits to the life, health, and liberty of drug users and the life, health, and property of the whole population would be immense."
The Guardian itself joined the fray in a same-day editorial acknowledging the futility of drug prohibition and calling tepidly for change to begin with the legalization of cannabis possession.
"The debate which Sir Keith wants to spark will be welcomed by many people in the drug treatment world," said the Guardian editorial. "The international war against drugs has always been as doomed to failure as the domestic war played out on British streets. The criminal syndicates are too well dug-in, the profits too enticing, and the demand from consumers too widespread for effective criminal sanctions."
After reviewing the arguments for and against legalization, and expressing concern about rising addiction levels and continuing criminal enterprises, the Guardian came down firmly in the middle. Saying that international law makes outright legalization of the drug trade impossible, the paper urged the Blair government to legalize the domestic possession of cannabis. The paper does not address cannabis growth or distribution.
"It is time the debate began," wrote the Guardian.
Guardian article and interview: