The drug legalization debate

Sunday, October 17, 2010

fumigationcolombiaForeign minister Maria Angela Holguín’s statement of last Sunday 10 October is of great importance. According to this statement, Colombia should take the discussion about the drugs policy to a global level and to the UN’s Security Council. According to her criteria it doesn’t make sense that whilst certain developed countries decriminalize and legalize certain use, we continue to “imprison peasants who own half a hectare of coca leaf cultivation”.

The chancellor is right to point out this contradiction. But her reasoning, which is similar to that of President Santos in Mexico a few weeks ago, is insufficient and could also prove to be a boomerang.

If the problem is merely that there is a contradiction between the fact that in Colombia we penalize the production and distribution of psychoactive substances, whilst in certain European countries or certain parts of the United States the decriminalization of drug use process is advancing, then the solution could take two radically opposed forms: one could defend the re-criminalisation of consumption or, on the contrary, move towards legalization and standardization of production and distribution.

One of the Uribe Government’s very arguments to reform the Constitution and object to the Constitutional Court’ sentence C-221 of 1994, which had decriminalized drug use, was that it was contradictory for Colombia to defend prohibition on an international level whilst decriminalizing use on an internal level.

For this reason it does not suffice to point out this possible contradiction: Colombia needs to take the reasoning further and begin to question the prohibitionist regime that exists on an international level. This regime has failed miserably to prevent the growth in supply of illegal drugs, as any evaluation of the market of these substances shows; but what is more, prohibitionism has produced some very serious effects such as the growth in drug trafficking rings and the violence and corruption associated with them, which has seriously affected nearly all countries in Latin America.

The Santos government therefore shouldn’t limit itself to pointing out the contradiction that foreign minister Holguín skilfully highlights, but should instead bring to the forefront, and on an international level, the debate on the legitimacy of the prohibitionist regime; it should also bring this before the UN Security Commission, because of the effects drug trafficking has on international security.

Colombia has the moral authority to put forward this debate, precisely because it has been one of the victims of violence and corruption from drug trafficking (although we shouldn’t deny that we have also “benefited” from this illegal money). And there are very good arguments to defend the abandoning of the prohibitionist regime and substituting it with standardization or regulated legalization of drug production, distribution and consumption policy, that several of us specialists in the field have defended unsuccessfully for many years.

This blog was originally published in the Colombian site “La silla vacía”