Simultaneous Worldwide Drug Legalization, Anyone?

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Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos has some interesting ideas about international drug policy.  

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.

But somebody has to take the first steps?

Yes, and it won’t be me.


Because for Colombia, this is a matter of national security. 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. [Metro]

So…either the president of Colombia is dangerously insane, or there are actually some pretty enormous problems with the way drug use is dealt with around the world. His candor is impressive considering the unbelievable amount of effort it takes to get our president to talk about drug policy for even 30 seconds. 

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Gart's picture

Mr. Santos, you won't be the first.

What sort of answer is that: «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 to 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? One thing is for sure: Mr. Santos do not want to be the first, he wants to be...the last.

Gart Valenc

"What sort of answer is that?" A hell of a lot better answer

than other current leader of a country has ever given, far as I know. I prefer to appreciate it for the significant step forward that it is, and use it in combination with Calderon's recent comments along pretty similar lines, to put pressure on other leaders to get real about cannabis.

Gart's picture

Mr. Santos is not a legaliser, he is not even a leader!


Mr. Santos has been interviewed in many occasions and every time he’s asked for his opinion on the issue (in one occasion specifically about Mexico president Calderón call for “market alternatives”) his answer has always been the same: Colombia has no other alternative but to continue ahead with the War on Drugs policies.

Anyway, the question here is that doing nothing and waiting until there is no War on Drugs to oppose or reject is not the answer to be expected from the president of one of the two countries in Latin America, the other one being Mexico, that have been more savagely affected by the policies enforced in the name of Prohibition and the War on Drugs.

Mr. Santos could, for example, take the initiative to seek alliances with both drug producing and drug distributing countries all over the world to put an end to Prohibition and the War on Drugs — UNASUR could be a good starting point. They could, for instance, reject, or at least denounce, “en masse” the current international conventions on drugs and then rejoin them with reservations.

It seems to me that in order to counterbalance the US opposition to such a stance, producing and distributing countries could, for instance, DEMAND that net drug consuming countries that have “legalised” the demand (via harm reduction policies, depenalisation or decriminalisation) introduce, support and promote changes in national and international laws seeking the decriminalisation or depenalisation of the supply, too. I believe they have the MORAL OBLIGATION to do so.

I could go on and on about possible actions Mr. Santos could take to voice and lead a campaign for changing the policies advanced by Prohibition and the War on Drugs. The bottom line is that waiting until «…the entire world does it...» is anything but leadership. If I wanted to be less generous, I would say it is political and intellectual cowardice.

Gart Valenc

He's the first in his position to call for worldwide coordinated

legal cannabis, it's an historic moment, and you can't find one positive word to say about it.

 I could go on and on about other things he could and should do too, but I'll save my condemnation for the real enemy, as I see it, and that sure ain't the first sitting head of state to support worldwide legal weed. As far as I can tell it's "well said, Santos!" And don't respond by saying saying isn't doing, sometimes it is. He raised the discussion of legal cannabis to a new level, that's what he did.

Gart's picture

Can't see the wood for the trees

You are entitled to your own opinions, of course. If you want to interpret Mr. Santos' vacuous statement as a historic moment, well good luck with that. One thing I agree with you, though, is that the condemnation should be for the real enemy: the US, the most fanatic and belligerent drug warrior in the world. That's where Mr. Santos' should focus his demand. You don't need to hide behind the "entire world", just get the US to call this barbaric and inhumane "war" quits, and you will see how quickly the rest of the world will follow suit.   

Gart Valenc

Gart's picture

Who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Santos


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 multibillion business it is ($320,000 millions per year, PERYEAR). Not only that, it is Prohibition that has given the control of this multibillion 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

Reform from Abroad Pushes Domestic Reform

International pressure for drug law reform is by its nature more powerful than the demands made by the oppressed who suffer from the drug war.  That’s usually the case for any issue, whether it’s drug law reform or civil rights, or in this case a combination thereof. 

The inquisitions in Spain and its dependencies were stopped by international condemnations of the type we’re seeing now with regard to prohibition.  The screams of individual torture victims emanating from the rack or the strappado meant little or nothing to the Suprema. 

The situation really didn’t begin to change until the 19th century when the inquisitions were seen as disrupting international commerce and freedom of travel.   Protestants, Muslims and Jews couldn’t set foot in Spain without being arrested.  Individual nations, such as the U.S., England, Holland and France, put pressure on the Spanish government to mend their ways, something Spain finally did by officially abolishing the Tribunal in 1834—a fairly recent affair as historical events go. 

Shades of the inquisitions can still be found in the property forfeitures in drug cases, and in the fact that no perceived victim of these types of crimes acts as the plaintiff in a criminal complaint involving a charge of heresy or drug use.  In these situations, the only aggrieved party is the respective religion or government.


That is exactly the Solution¡¡¡

Colombia is the victim of an international policy that´s has been bleeding out my country for over 4 decades, Colombia can not legalize drugs, is not its decision, its of the US, if the United States puts away its interests in the region and thinks about a great benefit for Colombia and its own people, the blood river would stop flowing, drugs would become just like alcohol or cigarettes, mafia would end, and cocaine or marihuana would become just like another exportation product, Colombia´s long running conflict would end, if guerrillas can´t win great amounts of money selling drugs, then what would be the point in fighting if you are not earning money?, they would surrender, and Colombia finally would be able to show itself as a new world promise of development and prosperity. without war, all that money that is wasted on war can be invested in infrastructure, education, healthcare, houses.. and so on.

The use fear to manipulate and extort us.


Hermain Cain said: "China is developing nuclear capability."
China has had nukes since 1964.
Its clear these candidates are interested mostly in artificially propping up the military industrial complex.
The powers that be have always relied on fear and paranoia of the unknown to gain total control of an ill-informed populus. The argument is valid on both sides (Russia/US during cold war as example). The SYSTEM becomes OBSOLETE when this fear of someone you have never even met thousands of miles away is gone.
CIA, FBI, TSA, Homeland Security, Patriot Act, 1.5 trillion in 10 years on wars.
Our president has no real power anymore, he listens to appointees and does what they ask. He has become a puppet tool like the rest of them, a victim of the MACHINE.
We are the "freest" nation on earth with 5% of the world population, but house 25% of the worlds prisoners in our privatized prison system, where people profit when more prison cells are filled, it becomes evident that these companies would be interested in filling said prison cells in the name of the all holy bottom line.
Unite against the machine, or be destroyed by it.
Tear it down bolt by bolt, for our children.
The time is now. Occupy.

Gart's picture

¡Una piedra en el zapato!


Colombia, I totally agree with you on two counts. One, by definition, Prohibition & the War on Drugs will end when everybody ends it; i.e. when nobody promotes, supports or enforces it. That is why I say Mr. Santos' call is a vacuous statement. Which takes me to my second point. As you rightly point out, for over four decades Colombia, and more recently Mexico, has borne the worst of the worst of the policies Prohibitionists have concocted in their attempt to control the supply of drugs. You are also dead right in saying that Colombia cannot put an end to this irrational, barbaric and inhumane “war” on its own. That doesn’t mean Colombia, Mexico and drug producing countries in general cannot become, as you say in Spanish, “una piedra en el zapato” (a thorn in the side)  and do whatever is necessary to put pressure on those that  hold the real power to end it: the major drug consuming countries, in particular the US . That’s why I’ve been so critical of Mr. Santos recent interview in the comments I have made here.

I have written at length about this issue on my blog. Below is what I say about it in my latest post. I would add that where its says the UK, as far as the supply of drugs is concerned, one should also add to the list those countries that have “legalised”, de jure or de facto, the demand for drugs, either by adopting harm reduction policies or by depenalising or decriminalising the consumption of drugs, i.e. countries such as Holland, Portugal, Spain, etc. This is what I say in my post Wilful Blindnes: The New Reality?

I have said it before and I say it again: there is very little drug producing countries, such as Mexico, Colombia and the like, can do to alter the dastardly realities imposed on them by Prohibition and the so-called War on Drugs policies. In fact, I find it rather naive to expect that producers could dent in any meaningful way Prohibition and War on Drugs policies when the US, the juggernaut pushing for its implementation and enforcement all over the world, is reluctant to do anything about it.

Let’s take the case of Mexico. No matter how many times its citizens  take to the streets to protest demanding an end to the War on Drugs — as the experience of Colombia during the high of the fight against the drug cartels in the 80′s and 90′s so clearly exposed it — the stubborn fact is that nothing will happen until the real power behind the war on drugs decides otherwise. And the real power, literally and metaphorically, is in the hands of drug consuming countries, most conspicuously the US.

But make no mistake, it is not just the US that is at fault here, for we, the UK, have played a major role in the current situation, given that we are one of the major consumers in the world too and have done nothing to put an end to this criminal, obscene war. We have to ask ourselves: are we doing anything to put an end to this insane war? Not at all. Are we challenging US drug policies? Not in the slightest. Are we eroding the case for the war on drugs by pursuing a more rational drug policy? Absolutely not. Is the government even considering evaluating its current drug policy? Not a chance. So, we better get down off our high horses because we are all accomplices in this barbaric, inhumane war.

Gart Valenc

Breaking News!!

Breaking news!!  Fox news is shocked (!) that American youth, as young as 11, are being used by the cartels to transport drugs across the Texas border!!   Why not a little outrage that gangland America has been serving as the cartel distribution network for years.  Many, those on the street doing the dirty work, are would-be grammar school students. Millions of 'em.     It blows my mind that we stay trapped in this "war".  The cure that turned into the disease.  Seems pretty silly to continue to suffer the consequences of this disease when the real cure is sooo simple.  Gotta be time to WAKE UP.  Surely the problems that would be created by legalizing all drugs would be puny when compared to those that result from a "war" that, by it's very nature, only benefits it's enemy.  How.......unwise, are we going to allow ourselves to be?

Gart's picture

My apologies, I was wrong

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

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