Colombia's President Wants to Give Pot Peace a Chance

In a recent interview with Metro, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos says he would support worldwide legalization of "softer drugs" such as marijuana "provided everyone does it at the same time." He cannot act on his own, he says, "because for Colombia, this is a matter of national security." Since "drug trafficking is what finances the violence and the irregular groups in our country," Santos explains, "I would be crucified if I took the first step." At the same time, he emphasizes that "the world needs to discuss new approaches. We are basically still thinking within the same framework as we have done for the last 40 years."

Coming from a front-line drug warrior, these comments are significant. Latin American politicians have long complained that the demand for drugs in the United States leads to violence, corruption, and disorder in their countries. But lately the emphasis has been shifting from the demand for drugs to the laws that make it a crime to supply them, thereby delivering a highly lucrative business into the hands of armed thugs. Last week, for instance, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who launched a bloody crackdown on his country's drug cartels when he took office in December 2006, had this exchange with Time's Peter Hapak:

Is it true that you would like to see America legalize drugs?

I can hit the criminals, I can put them in jails, I can take control of their structures, I can rebuild the social fabric. But if Americans don't reduce the demand or don't reduce at least the profits coming from the black market for drugs, it will be impossible to solve this problem. 

So the answer is yes? 

I want to see a serious analysis of the alternatives, and one alternative is to explore the different legal regimes about drugs.

Meanwhile, a leading candidate to replace Calderon says he would de-escalate Mexico's drug war, which has led to more than 40,000 deaths since 2006. Santiago Creel, a former interior minister who is seeking the nomination of the ruling National Action Party, tells Reuters "the direct, frontal, expansive strategy is a strategy that should end with this administration." Instead of a military solution, "he said priority should be given to attacking cartels' revenue streams, cracking down on money laundering and cleaning up Mexico's prisons, where top criminals are often able to continue running their crime gangs on the outside."

While Creel promises merely a less violent crackdown, Santos seems to be moving toward the position of his predecessor Cesar Gaviria (Colombia's president from 1990 to 1994), one of the politicians behind the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which in June issued a report that recommended decriminalizing drug use and suggested some governments might experiment with legalized supply as well. The commission also includes Ernesto Zedillo and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former presidents of Mexico and Brazil, respectively.

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]

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  • Joe M||

    Great news. Of course, worldwide legalization is a non-starter. I could see legalization in the Americas and Europe, as something with a teeny tiny chance, but worldwide? 0% chance.

  • Wayne||

    The DEA has ways to deal with people who threaten their racket.

  • ||

    Imagine if you just legalize pot.Much of the drug cartel's money and the WOD goes awy.That's why it will not happen any time soon

  • k2000k||

    I hear that all the time but it jsut doesn't pan out. The cartels aren't making money from pot. It is way to easy to grow. I know a half dozen people who grow pot for themselves and never have to see a dealer for it. The cartels make money from hard drugs like cocaine or high grade meth. Now, I am all for legalization, but even if we legalized all the drugs it doesn't solve the cartel problem. They will simply move onto other rackets, such as slave trafficking. The fundemental problem mexico has is corruption and until that is fixed they will continue to have the cartel problem.

  • k2000k||

    * sex slave

  • Wayne||

    The cartels aren't making money from pot? Really? They are just doing it as a public service? Pot really costs $2,000 per pound to grow and distribute? Really?

    Estimates are that the cartels make 60% of their income from pot. Taking 60% of the cartels' income won't damage them? Let me guess, you weren't a business major in college, amiright?

  • ||

    So k2000k, is it your assertion that we need to keep [drugs] illegal because otherwise the organized criminal syndicates would get into real mischief?

    Regardless, it is demonstrably untrue that profits from cannabis are a negligible percentage of Mexican cartel profits.

    It's also beyond absurd to assert that the cartels could easily find criminal profits that they're not interested in collecting today. Do you think that the cartels are suffering from "amotivational syndrome" because of supplying the wholesale cannabis supply chain? Or are you thinking that organized criminals just aren't greedy people, that their motto is "take what is needed and leave the rest?"

  • Linus||

    I use pot now and again, and I would never grow it. It's just way to easy to buy instead. There are so many disadvantages to growing it.

    If I grow it, I only get one strain, and unless I know what I am doing it will most likely end up low quality. At the store I can pick from many different strains at one time. I can buy just what I need and nothing more.

    What about when i have visitors to my home. Hiding a couple grams is easy; hiding a plant is not. Friends, family and coworkers may not be pot smokers. I would have to worry about them seeing my plant, or smelling it when they visited.

    Buying it, I don't have to worry about my neighbors stealing my pot if it's outside, or my pets getting into it if it's inside.

    It would be such a hassle to grow it for the average consumer.

  • Cytotoxic||

    We're winning.

  • sarcasmic||

    Legalize the bud? Never.

    Like police would be willing to give up an excuse to search people, confiscate their property, and shoot their dogs.

    Like the people who profit from prisons would willing to give up a constant flow of inmates.

    Like prosecutors and defense attorneys would willingly give up the power and revenue that drug cases provide.

    Like prescription drug manufacturers would willingly allow people to self-medicate instead of purchase their products.

    Like substance abuse counselors would willingly give up a constant stream of state mandated customers.

    Like social conservatives would willingly give up this state enforced morality.

    Besides. Drugs are bad, m'kay? My high school counselor said so so it must be true.

  • sarcasmic||

    Legalize the bud? Never.

    Like police would be willing to give up an excuse to search people, confiscate their property, and shoot their dogs.

    Like the people who profit from prisons would willing to give up a constant flow of inmates.

    Like prosecutors and defense attorneys would willingly give up the power and revenue that drug cases provide.

    Like prescription drug manufacturers would willingly allow people to self-medicate instead of purchase their products.

    Like substance abuse counselors would willingly give up a constant stream of state mandated customers.

    Like social conservatives would willingly give up this state enforced morality.

    Besides. Drugs are bad, m'kay? My high school counselor said so so it must be true.

  • sarcasmic||

    fucking squirrels

  • Robert||

    That's how we get baby squirrels.

  • Carmen Senz||

    If you don't like drugs, then don't use them.

  • You Hold(in)er, man?||

    Only slightly off topic:

    Chicago may decrim small amounts.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/.....3073.story

  • Russ 2000||

    For those keeping score: In Chicago an ounce of pot may or may not be bad, but a goose liver is definitely bad.

    I'm sure the PD is just outsourcing this to Eric Holder's office. For a finder's fee, of course.

  • Jennifer||

    he would support worldwide legalization of "softer drugs" such as marijuana "provided everyone does it at the same time." He cannot act on his own, he says, "because for Colombia, this is a matter of national security." Since "drug trafficking is what finances the violence and the irregular groups in our country," Santos explains, "I would be crucified if I took the first step."

    I'm not sure I follow his logic here: even if Colombia were the only country in the world where marijuana were legal, there still would be no room for the criminal element to control the Colombian pot industry. (It's similar to how in America, some states have legal fireworks and some do not; in states where fireworks are illegal you can only buy them from criminals, but in states with legal fireworks, you buy them from legal, aboveboard businessmen.)

    The real threat to Colombian national security would come from the US military, after we invaded.

  • cynical||

    The rebels will get drug money either way as long as drugs are illegal in the US. But the Columbian government depends on drug warrior money. If Columbia legalizes drug production but the US still bans imports, the rebels still have the same funding, but the government loses out, and that's a big advantage for FARC.

    If they both legalize, they'll both lose, but the rebels will probably lose bigger.

    At least, that's what I'm guessing his concern is.

  • Robert||

    But surely the smuggling business would change if they could buy in Colombia legally. Colombia's gov't would exact taxes on the sales, and the smugglers wouldn't be the same people whose cx are now to illegal producers. Smuggling would become much more competitive, with many more people packing much smaller packages.

  • anon||

    The problem with colombia is that people from colombia take the weed and sell it to Americans, who cannot afford to grow it themselves or take trips to colombia to buy it.

    if it was legal they could just grow it themselves, and sell it to america, without going through the government at all.

    I don't see how smuggling being competitive would be a good thing, if you implying that the standard citizens would be shipping stuff out for their own profit illegally, that just seems to make the problem a lot worse.

    Not only that but because the government allows it and its hurting America, they will lose trade, support, and may even end up facing down americas gigantic super advanced weapons as they take matters into their own hands.

    Yeah, it needs to be made legal everywhere for legalization to work, otherwise the countries that allow it just become headquarters for smuggling ops.

  • k2000k||

    Well breaking the law makes you a crimminal. The question is, is that 'crimminal' a harden thug or a member of a gun, or someone who simply gets fireworks and sells them across state lines. Though in actuallity they probably come from indian reservations, where they are legal.

  • ||

    invaded? o.O

  • jtuf||

    This news is a step in the right direction.

  • Robert||

    In practical terms, everyone's gov't will act on this at the same time, except the Muslim-run ones. I mean not at the same instant, but in an eyeblink relative to the total amount of time the policies have existed.

  • Robert||

    Since "drug trafficking is what finances the violence and the irregular groups in our country," Santos explains, "I would be crucified if I took the first step."


    Does that follow? It doesn't seem to have been true of Canada during USAn alcohol prohib'n.

  • anonymous||

    Calderon would clearly rather that Americans cut off or severely dampen demand for illegal drugs. Legalization, which he implicitly mentions, is, he says, the least Americans could do for his country. In that light, it's rather telling that when Reason covers the violence in Latin America caused by the drug cartels, they never advocate policies that would do Latin American countries the most good, yet they presume to be arguing in the interests of the citizens of Latin America. Sure, legalization would be in the interests of Mexico, but harsher penalties for drug offenses in the U.S. would serve them even better. I am aware of a few arguments for why harsher penalties for drug offenses in the U.S. wouldn't be desirable, but I'm not convinced any of those arguments have the best interests of Mexico at heart.

  • Luis||

    Time to visit my family

  • ||

    I've never understood why there are people who think draconian penalties will cut down on the use of cannabis. Are these people unaware of what the penalties for petty possession of cannabis were in the 1960s? Have they missed the fact that cannabis use in the US skyrocketed by more than 1000% when such penalties were in place?

    Virginia had a mandatory minimum of 20 years with no parole for petty possession and a 40 year mandatory minimum with no parole for distribution.

    I don't think I'll forget my feeling of stunned disbelief when I read about a protester getting sentenced to 20 years in prison for possession of a single joint in 1969. In San Francisco. The very same San Francisco that's in California and is arguably the cannabis capital of the United States.

    In 1975 the SCOTUS was about to declare that a 30-60 year prison term for an Ohio cannabis vendor did not constitute an 8th Amendment violation but before they published Ohio instituted their much more lenient laws and instead ordered them to re-sentence using the new penalties. See Downey v. E P Perini, 518 F. 2d 1288 (1975)

    http://openjurist.org/518/f2d/.....e-p-perini

    The assertion that the penalty matters absent any realistic chance of getting arrested is simply laughable. I've been enjoying cannabis for more than 34 years now. When should I start expecting my first arrest for petty possession?

  • Dylan||

    You know, I think that legalizing pot will greatly reduce many issues, such as those legalize pot protests, and it can give the DEA other things to focus on, such as crack houses and such. I could see the US legalizing pot, and it would definetly rock the cartel's boat. It would be a smart move, already considering pot is already America's #1 cash crop.

  • ||

    I will be voting for Governor Gary Johnson for president! End the wars, balance the budget, equal rights for LGBT and legalize marijuana! This guy is exactly who America needs in The White House! The People's President.

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