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New Colombian President Joins Call for Drug Legalization Debate

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #647)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said in a Mexico City radio interview Wednesday that he supported Mexican President Felipe Calderon's call for a debate on drug legalization. He also said that he will seek to build a united front with Peru and Mexico on legalization if voters in California approve marijuana legalization in November.

President Santos as candidate, June 2010
meeting with Secretary Clinton
Colombia and Peru are the world's top cocaine producers. Mexico is the leading hemispheric producer of marijuana and opium, as well as being the home to some of the world's wealthiest and deadliest drug trafficking organizations.

"We are entering the era of the drug trafficking business where one must have these types of reflections," Santos said. "President Calderon is right to call for this to be discussed, without meaning that one is in agreement or not with the position of legalization."

Santos eyed California's Proposition 19 marijuana legalization initiative with mixed feelings. "How would we explain to an indigenous person on a Colombian mountain that producing marijuana is illegal and take him to jail or destroy the marijuana when in the US it is legal to consume it?" he asked.

Santos said he was perturbed by the distinction made by some in the US between "soft" drugs like marijuana and "hard" drugs like cocaine or heroin. "Where do we draw the line?" he asked.

"We are all affected by this scourge of drug trafficking," Santos said, referring to Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. "We must sit down and work out how we are going to react and what is going to happen after this referendum," he said. "All strategies that are combined are more effective."

Colombia cannot legalize the drug trade by itself, Santos said. "Unilaterally, we cannot legalize drugs because they are a problem not only for national security, but there are also international implications."

That President Santos should make such remarks is not much of a surprise. In 1998, as head of the Good Government Foundation, he co-signed an open letter to then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan calling for a "frank and honest evaluation of global drug control efforts" because "we believe the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself."

And two years ago, he told a London conference on cocaine that legalization should be part of the debate. He said then that there was no political will to do that. Time will tell if anything has really changed in that regard.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous323123 (not verified)

Why the hell is it taking the buffoons in government so long to realize that their prohibition is so vile and destructive? Are they really so stupid? Or do they have special interests involved? I'd put my money on the later, and if that's true, then I am afraid we will never have the use of logic and sense when it comes to drugs for the greedy, power hungry jerks in office will always choose power and wealth over honesty, compassion and good will toward the rest of us.
Fri, 08/27/2010 - 1:27pm Permalink
newageblues (not verified)

Cannabis isn't just safer than alcohol when it comes to death and serious injury, it's MUCH safer. So in regard to Santos's question "where do you draw the line , the answer is "surely not where it's drawn now". Trying to force people to choose alcohol over cannabis is insane policy from a public safety viewpoint, even without the catastrophic black market violence that it has created. With these comments by Santos, the stakes in CA in November have grown even larger.
If cannabis legalization is a success, and the critics predicting grief from it are shown wrong, just as they have been with medicinal marijuana, people should start to wonder if the dangers of hard drugs have also been exaggerated, with problems caused by prohibition lumped together with problems caused by the drugs themselves. Harm reduction based maintenance programs will probably be needed to convince enough people, so it's urgent that some get started in the U.S.

Fri, 08/27/2010 - 3:20pm Permalink
rita (not verified)

In reply to by newageblues (not verified)

I'd think that, if the lies they tell about marijuana didn't tip you off that drug warriors are liars, the complete absence of dead drug addicts littering the streets should have.  Drugs, themselves, rarely cause problems.  When they do, they cause problems for individuals, not society.  So, where do you draw the line?  You don't.  Not because of the relative dangers vs benefits of individual drugs, but because wherever you draw it, your line tramples on my freedom. 

Sat, 08/28/2010 - 7:11pm Permalink
Mark323 (not verified)

Looks like this is the beginning of the end. It took a long time for us to finally realize our failure in this case. Find someone else to oppress I guess.

Fri, 08/27/2010 - 3:58pm Permalink
maxw22d (not verified)

Do you remember 1979?  "Got dat Bo!" meant some good-tasting brown riefer from Colombia was available.  The USA spent billions, sent planes to spray paraquat etc., "Dat Bo" disappeared and we got the cocaine biz instead. 


Afghanistan?  The USA and USSR suppressed the hashish crop leading to today's heroin plague.  Domestic growhouses?  Our govt. sent spy planes to suppress that and the shekelgrubbers turned to meth labs instead.

Fri, 08/27/2010 - 6:25pm Permalink
AnonymousToo (not verified)

Why is it "so vile and destructive"?

"Special interests"?

Good job, sir. You have earned the right to explain us all which "special interests" you foresee here. What does compassion have to do with anything here?

I'm afraid you're not helping, but I rather give you the benefit of the doubt about this.

Fri, 08/27/2010 - 6:30pm Permalink
rita (not verified)

"Why is it vile and destructive?" you ask.  Let me count the ways.

The prohibition of drugs in America has its roots in racism.  It is, and always has been, a tool of oppression.  (Yeah, some of us still believe oppression is a bad thing.  Go figure.)  The so-called "war on drugs" is a war on people.  And you don't wage war on people to protect them.  You wage war on people to take what they have or destroy it.  Because you can.

Vile -- everything about drug laws is vile, from the government's assumption of ownership of our bodies to the violence of drug raids to the pretense of protecting the public.  What's vile is that the people who brought us the demand for street drugs, so-called "drug-related violence," the rampant spread of needle-borne HIV and Hepatitis C, home meth labs and last but not least, the imminent meltdown of Mexico, don't even have the courage to stand accountable for the results of their jihad but insist on blaming it all on evil, illegal drugs.  Because they can.

Our own government has the power right now to end the cartels' reign of terror.  They won't do it because it's America's collective, insane fear of drugs, drug dealers, drug-smuggling immigrants and each other that maintains the status quo.

I'd say "vile and destructive" is putting it mildly.

Sat, 08/28/2010 - 12:40am Permalink
Evergreen (not verified)

When will the first domino fall?  Will it be California that leads the rest of the world into the future?  We live in exciting times.

Sat, 08/28/2010 - 1:40am Permalink
Anon (not verified)

Oh yes my beloved Latin America, lead the way to end this stupid fucking drug war. Come on people of California, the world needs you, Mexico and its neighbors need you. Shit has hit the fan.

Sat, 08/28/2010 - 12:25pm Permalink
rita (not verified)

what would happen if Mexico tires of our arrogance and starts looking south for friendship.  I've a feeling that we're going to find out.  I've a feeling that the so-called "border war," which now exists only in the minds of the fear-mongers, is going to become very real.  Much like another metaphorical war I could name. 

Sat, 08/28/2010 - 5:12pm Permalink
Z (not verified)

First, legalize cannabis for adults.  It is, by far, the least of society's problems.

Second, take all the other drugs and make them available without a prescription from any pharmacist for a reasonable cost.  That way there is a DIALOGUE between the addict and the pharmacist and / or doctor, who can assist the addict in a slow, tapering off, then at the appropriate time, discontinue that use and offer them cannabis, or encourage them to stop everything and refer them to support groups that will help them.

If our society did that, the cartels and bad guys would disappear in VERY short order, as the bootleggers disappeared after Prohibition of alcohol was repealed.  We USED to have this situation in 1914, before drugs were outlawed.  At that time, drug abuse existed, but on a very tiny scale as compared to today.   The "Forbidden Fruit" appeal of drugs would disappear and, as in those days, drug abuse would again be looked as a thing that only losers do.   The sure The fire way to make something popular is to outlaw it! 

Drinking INCREASED during Prohibition!  That's why we had the "Roaring Twenties" instead of the "Sober Twenties" that the govt. expected.   As a result, the govt. was not making any money on alcohol sales anymore, so they gave us the Income Tax to make up for the loss of revenue.  Guess what?   Prohibition ended, and then we STILL have the Income Tax.

If we did that, we would no longer have the situation where outlaw organizations have more money than many entire governments. of the world!

Sat, 08/28/2010 - 9:21pm Permalink
sarah (not verified)

In reply to by Z (not verified)

Yes, you have it... Understanding the problem is to argue with the almighty police force that drives the attack on the poor and addicted to justify their own salarys and the "war on ordinary citizens". If people were to actually look at the facts and how "our" government is involved with the "bad guys" through the cia and other government agencys that try to control factions through buying and selling drugs thenselves...all about using it to control political situations that they want to control...

Thu, 09/02/2010 - 11:26am Permalink
ndnjones (not verified)

Methinks he is judiciously pussy-footing on this one. Not wise to boldly announce a move that would undercut the power of the cocaine traders; they would sooner kill him, if they couldn't buy him. However, if the marijuana drug trade goes first, and subsequently exposes the lies about the Drug War, then the relief of cocaine prohibition would come more easily. Playing it safe is probably best. Let's dismantle this madness a piece at a time, at least to start. "Continued movement towards the good" = sustained pressure vs the violent ways and claims of the Drug War Industry.

Sun, 08/29/2010 - 7:38am Permalink
Roberto (not verified)

In my recently published novel "An Inconsequential Murder" ( I describe another "war", the one being fought by liberal and conservative groups both from Mexico and the US.

Studies and economic information point to marijuana as providing up to 50% of the revenue of the cartels. If alcohol (and industry that is worth billions and billions in trade and causes thousands of deaths a year for health reasons as well as by accidents) can be regulated and licensed, why not marijuana?

Drug addiction (cocaine, heroin, etc) should also be treated as a malady not a crime. The causes of drug addiction are complex and varied (poverty, stress, lack of education and opportunities, too much money and boredom, a society with few family values, etc) but they will not be understood and much less lessened by jailing users and sellers. That has been going on for decades and it hasn't solved anything.

In the US, there is always talk of "securing the border", building walls, sending more guns and helicopters to Mexico, etc. but no one seems to talk about the real problem: the rampant use of drugs in the US. Has anyone spend a penny on commercials showing decapitated bodies with a caption saying "This is what your cocaine money pays for"? Hollywood and television show glamorize drug use, so why not de-glamorize it with commercials like that?

In my novel, one of the characters says that the DEA in Mexico has done more harm than good. If anyone cares to remember, the "pax romana" between the PRI and the cartels was broken when one of its agents was killed in Guadalajara. If anyone is interested, they should read the story of those events to learn how much the intervention of American policy in Mexican events has created this "War", too, just like the one in Colombia and in Irak.

Sun, 08/29/2010 - 9:26am Permalink
George (not verified)

If a drug is not generally considered life threatening when used normally, then it is not considered to be a "hard drug". Some politicians have written such definitions in stone. Obviously, alcohol is a hard drug. It is easy to over-dose on it, easy to become addicted to it, and it can be fatal. Likewise with many legal and illegal drugs. But they should all become as legal as alcohol or prescription drugs. 

Why is cocaine considered by some to be a 'hard drug"? I didn't know it was a hard drug. But then, I'm not a politician, nor do I know much about cocaine.

Mon, 08/30/2010 - 10:21pm Permalink
Juan (not verified)

It's clear to me, that this "War on Drugs" has been the single most oppressive battle in American history. Not just North American, but also Central and South American. Even globally, it has proven to be a brutal competition between rival dealers, and the people who want all of them in prison or dead. The corruption within the Government Institution has to be addressed, and who is making money of all these deaths. The system of Law and Order, doesn't protect the innocent in the major drug cases. They don't mention, that whenever there is a "Big Drug Bust" all kinds of people die. Whenever a "Drug Baron" gets captured, all kinds of people die. It's like whenever there is an attack on a Governments soil, like 911, how many people have died since then? It's just a cruel system of death and destruction. They would make more money de-criminalizing, responsibly producing, responsibly distributing, and providing social health programs to help people when it becomes too much of an addiction, if they get to that level. That would create jobs, the revenue from taxes would greatly help the economy, the violence would go down, and there would be a greater harmony within any country that enacted these resolutions. Drugs are bad, but so is Big Oil, look what that's doing to the planet. I'm pretty sure Cocaine isn't melting the poles, that will drown countless of Civilizations greatest cities all around the Earth.

Tue, 08/31/2010 - 4:08am Permalink
shaggy (not verified)

ok the reason the government doesn't legalize weed is because it is a plant and it grows in the ground and they cant really tax it real bad because eventually people will just grow it wherever because like i said its a plant it cant be regulated like alcohol  because its natural and not made in a factory and when they wanna take it back and make it illegal again they would've already lost control fear is the tool that they use to command us

Wed, 09/01/2010 - 12:33am Permalink
newageblues (not verified)

True it has to be manufactured (distilled) not grown but it doesn't need a factory, it can be done at home or a back country still, but not too many people bother. Plenty of people won't bother with weed either (if the tax is reasonable). It takes months to get a harvest, outdoor gardening is vulnerable to human and animal thieves, indoor gardening has it's own complications and would be banned by many landlords. From everything I've read, good quality 'weed' has to be cultivated, seeds can't just be scattered on the ground. Unlike ditch weed, quality cannabis doesn't have the ability to compete against real weeds, in breeding for high THC content, that ability has been lost.

They've already lost plenty of control, they don't control who can buy weed, they largely don't control who sells it, taxes are control and they are losing out on that, and they are also losing control of their budgets because (among other things) the $ they are wasting on the war against drug/herb users. Fear of drug cartels and financially bankrupt governments is trumping fear of people getting high off cannabis instead of alcohol. 

Wed, 09/01/2010 - 5:17am Permalink
Old_Cowboy (not verified)

I think newageblues is absolutely right.  I have grown pot in both non-commercial  indoor and outdoor grows.  It is fun to do once or twice but it is a lot work.  

I love pepper vodka and I can make better pepper vodka than any i can buy.  However, i do not do my own distilling although i know exactly how to do it and the equipment is cheap and easily purchased at chemical supply houses.  Other than the transitory pleasure of telling the man to get f***d, DIY distilling just can't compete with 1.5 liter vodka for $10 bucks, most of which goes into the coffers of our oppressive gov. 

Tobacco is a plant and i don't see a lot of backyard tobacco growing even though the gov. taxes the heck out of it.

Thu, 09/02/2010 - 12:09pm Permalink
legalfreedom (not verified)

I know our governments are not stupid, and after years of failed drug prohibitions they know we throw good money after bad. The ONLY reason no one has legalized these drugs is because too much money is being made on BOTH sides of the battle. It's no different from the Rockefellers funding both sides of WWII. It will take leaders who are not on the take, and who are not afraid to die for the cause, to stand up and force the change.

Sit down and make a list of the chain on continuum for drugs. Buyer; seller; SWAT teams, prosecuting attorneys offices and confiscation rules; Prison funding (most are privatized now) per prisoner and low cost labor for products coming from prisons; drug treatment facilities (who pays for these?) and personnel, no rights to higher education or community services funding once a prisoner gets out, also means that money is spent on fewer people...AND we can't forget the big dealers have enough money to literally buy countries and are greasing the palms of high ranking officials across the world, and border patrol.

The drug war/prohibition is not really about the drugs at all, it's about the money. We need people with great integrity to take over those places that are corrupt, in order to see a change. Be mindful of who you vote for and if their story and actions has changed from before running for office... we've been lied to too many times. Know one when you hear one!

Thu, 09/02/2010 - 1:13pm Permalink
Noah_Scape (not verified)

  Sales of illegal drugs helps fund "unsavoury missions by the CIA", as written in the book "The Politics of Heroin" [by who was that?].

  Lots of governments and their agencies use illegal drugs money to get information or to "acquire political assets".

So thats another reason prohibition has not ended.

Wed, 09/08/2010 - 2:31pm Permalink
dahszil (not verified)

If memory serves me Santos was the just exited President of Columbia's main man for the war on drugs. 

Now he has seen how wrong this war on drugs is.  How the fact that drugs are illegal is the reason for the social ills and violence.

Indeed, there must be an international agreement on ending the war on drugs.  Because a minority of countries did or are doing the right thing,

Like Netherlands did, and now Switzerland is doing, by setting up clinics whereby heroin addicts can get their fix, medical care, and then in some

small way become productive and contributive citizens because the addict does not have to spend his/her whole day begging, selling their bodies,

robbing to get the money for the high cost of an illegal fix.  The Swiss policy effectively puts the cartels out of business, thus violent crime drops significantly.

For what is the most effective way to gain market share in an illegal economy but through violence.  The eventual yoke that the majority of countries of the world put on the

shoulders of Switzerland is that for one, addicts from around the world will flock to Suisse.  Then the inevitable supply not keeping up with demand problem occurs.

Thus the criminals set up shop again in Switzerland to supply the demand to foreign addicts, and thus it becomes a viscious circle that is impose on countries like Switzerland

by the majority of countries who are still on the warpath on drugs.  Again, Santos, Fox, et al are correct when they demand an international consensus to lift the prohibition on demonized drugs.


dahszil, male, usa

Mon, 09/20/2010 - 1:27am Permalink


I just wanted to point out an error:

The incumbent president of Colombia is Juan Manuel Santos Calderón and has indeed said everything you've pointed out in your article, expect for the last paragraph, which links to an article about former Vicepresident Francisco Santos Calderón, who is the cousin of current President and, as a political ally of former President Uribe, has been a harsh defender of the "war on drugs" policy.

Fri, 01/28/2011 - 1:11pm Permalink
stranger passin by (not verified)

The US Government is the whole problem in this absurd prohibition.

Pressure is required from countries outside the US since the Congress, Senate and President of the US are all in the same corruption ring.

In fact, the US Constitution[article 10] prohibits the Federal Government from controlling anything not specifically named in the constitution. Therefore, the prohibition in the USA is illegal in it's self.

The problem.. the US Government operates above any law and has Zero accountability, a rouge entity.

The people in America have been yelling about ending prohibition for 60 years, but the US Government does not represent it's people, only money and the person that holds the biggest fist full of dollars.

Sooner rather than later, the Corrupt US Government will have no choice but legalization.

Sun, 02/20/2011 - 7:55am Permalink

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