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Colombia Okays Prescriptions for Addicts in Bogota

President Juan Manuel Santos has given the go-ahead to Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro's plan to prescribe otherwise illicit drugs to addicts in the Colombian capital, according to Colombian press reports (and Colombia Reports, the first English-language source with the story). The announcement came after the pair met to discuss the matter last Friday.

Santos and Petro at press conference announcing the initiative (screen shot from Caracol TV)
"We will create physical spaces in the most violent zones of the city where the drug addicts, mostly youth, can get away from being illegal and dependent on the criminal gangs," Petro said after the meeting.

The primary problematic drug on the streets of Bogota is, unsurprisingly, cocaine.

The colorful, left-leaning mayor, who suffered death threats after exposing broad links between the right-wing paramilitaries and Colombian politicians as a senator and who came in fourth in the 2010 presidential elections, first proposed the idea of drug consumption sites last month, but Santos was initially cool to the idea.

"A large part of the violence and crime that still persists in the city derives from the small-scale consumption and trafficking of drugs... We should allow some centers for addicts that provide treatment... where the addict can consume under relative control, without doing damage to society," Petro said when he initially broached the idea.

Santos seemed dubious when he responded days later. "This leap into the dark seems irresponsible to me because one could cause a lot of damage to society, youth and the country," he said.

But Petro appears to have swayed him, confirming after the meeting that the national government had approved his proposal. He needed the government's approval for constitutional reasons, he said.

"The only way to authorize the use of illicit drugs is if it is part of a medical treatment and prescribed by a doctor. We dared to present this proposal publicly, but we could not implement it without permission from the national government."

It's unclear at this point when the plan will be implemented. It's also unclear how the idea of providing addicts prescriptions for their drugs is going to play with the International Narcotics Control Board, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and the US government, but it looks like the Colombian government of President Santos is willing to test the limits. Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands and Canada (in two cities) all have such programs for heroin.

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Congratulations to Columbia for taking this humane step

Which is good both for addicts and the public, Columbia should now see less crimes committed by addicts needing to get money to pay black market prices. If that happens, perhaps some U.S. city will take note and want to try the same experiment. Such an experiment seems necessary in the US to move the debate on 'hard' drugs forward, it would enable us distinguish between problems actually caused by the drug use, and problems caused by their prohibition and the subsequent black market. This plan also offers a chance to show that humane treatment of addicts leads to more rehabilitation than crucifying them, the way we've been doing when their addiction is to a "wrong" drug.

Gart's picture

If only

I oppose Prohibition and the War on Drugs unreservedly and welcome any measure aimed at recognising that the so called drug problem is a health issue, not a criminal one. 

One thing is clear, though, the only way to manage it rationally and efficiently is to Legalise & Regulate the whole chain of the drugs market, i.e. production, distribution and consumption. I say manage, not solve, because there is no “magic bullet”: no matter what regulation regime one chooses, there will always be a price to pay. The task is to find the policies that minimise the costs.

What we Europeans have done so far can only be described as cowardly and hypocritical: only the U.S. consume more drugs than us, yet we have no qualms decriminalising the personal consumption of drugs, and in some cases the domestic supply too, and at the same time criminalising and prosecuting by fire and sword the supply of drugs coming from producing and transit countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Peru or Mexico, for example.

The political and economic reality in which the War on Drugs operates allow us to follow such policies with impunity. That’s a luxury producing and transit countries cannot afford. For them, decriminalizing the demand and criminalizing the supply at the same time is not only irrational and ineffective, it is the worst of both worlds. More about this here:

Gart Valenc
Twitter: @ gartvalenc

I thought you would be more enthusiastic about this step forward

This is taking the big step of decriminalizing the supply for the addicts involved, they will be getting prescribed drugs, not black market supplied drugs. A better situation for them, and for the community they won't have to prey on to get money for black market product, and a worse situation for the black market sellers, who are losing some of their best customers. And a chance to demonstrate the difference between problems caused by the drugs themselves and those caused by their prohibition, which will help push the debate in a good direction.

 You complained a while ago that all Santos was doing was talking. This plan is doing more than talking and he deserves significant credit and support for that, more than you seem willing to give him.

Gart's picture

It's the supply...

Once again, you seem to misunderstand and misrepresent my position, saynotohypocrisy. I do believe I've made my position clear in the very first paragraph of my comment above: «...and [I] welcome any measure aimed at recognising that the so called drug problem is a health issue, not a criminal one.» It's obvious that it includes supplying drugs to addicts and therefore, I  welcome it wholeheartedly.

I do also believe that the link I included in my previous post gives enough context to my 'worst of the both worlds' argument. Additional context is provided here:  and here:

I hope this time you get my point. If not, well we just should agree to disagree!

Gart Valenc

Twitter: @gartvalenc


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