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Colombia President Calls for Global Marijuana Legalization

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #706)
Consequences of Prohibition
Drug War Issues

In a Sunday interview, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called for the global legalization of marijuana, but said his country could not be the one to lead the way. Santos also called for a tougher, smarter approach to international drug trafficking and hard drug use.

Juan Manuel Santos
"The world needs to discuss new approaches," Santos said. "We are basically still thinking within the same framework as we have done for the last 40 years."

Colombia has made progress in its fight against cocaine trafficking in the past 20 years, managing to destroy first the Medellin and then the Cali cartels and subsequently seeing a reduction in the violence that had plagued the country. But a legion of mini-cartels have emerged to take up the trafficking mantle, and Colombia remains a world leader in cocaine production.

When asked by his interviewer whether marijuana legalization could be a means of further reducing the violence, Santos said he would support legalization, but only if it were a global move. "Yes, that could be an answer, provided everyone does it at the same time," he said.

Colombia would not undertake such a move itself because of national security reasons, Santos said. "For Colombia, this is a matter of national security," he explained. "Drug trafficking is what finances the violence and the irregular groups in our country. I would be crucified if I took the first step. We need to insist on more multinational actions on drug trafficking and innovate the ways we are dealing with it," he said.

"In other countries [Europe and the US] this is mainly a health and crime issue," Santos continued. "We need to look at all components, one of them being targeting the assets in this business. But we need to do so on a global level. We must discuss a new approach, looking at all the components: The profit and the crime that follows drug trafficking, the fight against money laundering, trade with arms and so on. These are all effects of drugs."

Or, more precisely, global drug prohibition. And so, the consensus continues to crumble.

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.


Gart Valenc (not verified)

As it is typical of Mr. Santos, he is rather ambiguous. If you read the original article:

you will see what Mr. Santos does really mean. Below is the comment I made on that article.

I would like to borrow Brad DeLong's (?) catchphrase Why Oh Why Can't We Have Better Press Corps? The author of this piece, Per Mikael Jenson, could, should, have done a much better job by challenging and following Mr. Santos answers through.

The "fight" against drug traffickers has changed their structure but not their essence: their control is now less concentrated but their economic and political power is still alive and kicking...very much alive, indeed. And the same goes for the violence, corruption, intimidation and political manipulation of elections, of candidates, of public institutions, and so on and so forth. 

If anything, Colombia is not an example to follow, for not only has it not being successful in protecting itself from the disastrous consequences of waging the so-called War on Drugs, it has failed, abysmally, in solving the "problem" this "war" is supposed to deal with: the supply. After decades of fighting an irrational, criminal and barbaric "war", Colombia continues to be the major supplier of cocaine in the world. Not even the word pyrrhic is appropriate here...catastrophic and demented are. 

Mr. Santos' logic, according to which «...[it] is a matter of national security. Drug trafficking is what finances the violence and the irregular groups in our country.» really beggars believe. It is prohibition that has transformed the supply of soft and hard drugs in the multi billion business it is ($320,000 millions per year, PERYEAR). Not only that, it is Prohibition that has given the control of this multi billion business to criminal organisations, the same "irregular groups" Mr. Santos worries about. 

To borrow another popular catchphrase, who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Santos!

Gart Valenc

Thu, 10/27/2011 - 4:13pm Permalink
Anonymous_ (not verified)

In reply to by Gart Valenc (not verified)

The problem is, you can not legalize drug trafficking unilaterally in a producing country; it has to be legalized at least at the same time in consuming countries.

By legalizing it only in Colombia would cause problems in the relations with other countries and we would still have bands of smugglers in the frontiers causing corruption and financing terrorist bands

Fri, 02/17/2012 - 7:44pm Permalink
saynotohypocrisy (not verified)

I read the original article, Gart, and don't understand your 'does and does not' point. On the subject of this post, CANNABIS legalization, Santos is not being what I call ambivalent, he wants to legalize it worldwide, and has now earned a leading place in the history of that effort, but he is afraid of being 'crucified' if Columbia leads the way, which is understandable to me.

Thu, 10/27/2011 - 4:44pm Permalink
Gart (not verified)


Of course he is saying that, saynotohypocrisy, but you have to read "in context"; in other words, you have to consider the whole interview and the way the answers are framed. That's what I did try to highlight with my comment. What sort of answer is this: yes, when everybody has done it. Well, production is legal in several states in the US; personal consumption is legal in many countries, including Colombia; Bolivia has rejected the 1961 Convention; Peru has announced a change in its eradication programmes. So, when will he feel that the moment to legalise has come or at least take a more proactive role and become a more vocal proponent of "market alternatives" — as the current president of Mexico so incisively called legalisation policies? Here is the answer:

Do you think legalizing softer drugs could be a way forward?

Yes, that could be an answer, provided everyone does it at the same time.

Is that something you would support?

If the entire world does it, yes.


Do I need to continue?

Gart Valenc

Thu, 10/27/2011 - 6:03pm Permalink
Gart (not verified)

Well, judging by a recent interview given by the current president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, to The Guardian correspondent in Bogota (see link below) it seems clear that I misread the seriousness and relevance of Mr. Santos call for a "worldwide" consensus. My apologies to him (not that he has read my comments, of course) and to those who showed more faith in his words than I did.

Gart Valenc

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 11:29am Permalink
Gart (not verified)

In reply to by Gart (not verified)

Well, it seems I was wrong, again. It seems Mr. Santos is a hard nut to crack. First, credit where credit is due. He put forward, alongside the Presidents of Guatemala and Costa Rica, the agenda on drugs policies during the VI Summit of the Americas, which took place last April in Cartagena, Colombia.

Rather disappointingly, though, the Summit's participants, under the unambiguous and relentless pressure from the US, decided to put OAS' Inter American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD for its name in Spanish) in charge of analysing current and alternative drugs policies.

I say disappointingly, because there is a general consensus among regional and international analysts and commentators that OAS is a highly burocratic and politicised body, and there exist serious reservations as to whether it could go ahead with the task in hand in a transparent and independent fashion.

But, to be frank, the blame cannot be laid on Mr. Santos—not on him alone, anyway. His reaction, however, to Uruguay's plan to introduce legislation that would allow the government to sell marijuana is rather troublesome, to say the least. You can read it here:

1. Instead of criticising Uruguay, he could have said: I support Uruguay but we need a regional response. Now it is the time to unite and move the debate forward.

2. He says that Uruguay's plan will make things worse and will "create distortions in the region". What sort of new and more serious distortions is he talking about? And could they be significantly worse  than the ones already in place? He doesn't say.

3. He seems to suggest that no action should be taken until OAS-CICAD had studied the issue. But asking OAS-CICAD to analyse current and alternative drug policies is like asking a burglar what is the best way to catch him. Only a recognised, independent and transparent institution should be given the responsibility to take on such a crucial task.

Beyond Mr Santos' opposition, a couple of lessons can be learned from the regional and global attention Uruguay's plan has received:

1. Even if it fails, Uruguay's proposal shows how unsustainable the arguments for Prohibition are.

2. It shows that Prohibition has long lost the economic, political and humanistic argument.

3. It shows that no politician will never ever be able to say that debating drugs policies is akin to "political suicide".

4. That now is the opportunity for Latin America as a whole to get behind Uruguay and press for drugs regime change.

5. Equally, if not more importantly, now is the time for Europe as a whole— and particularly for those countries that have put in place extensive harm reduction programmes, that have decriminalised or depenalised the demand for, and in some cases, both the demand for as well as the domestic supply of drugs—to end its shameful silence and express their public support for Latin America's desperate call to debate current and alternative drugs policies.

Finally, as if more were needed to show how ironic and disappointing Mr Santos' reaction is, we should not forget  what he said in the interview this post is about: "I would be crucified if I took the first step" Well, I'm afraid Mr @juanmansantos it seems it is you who are trying to crucify Uruguay for taking the first step!

Gart Valenc

Twitter: @gartvalenc

Sat, 06/23/2012 - 9:39am Permalink

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