New Colombian President Joins Call for Drug Legalization Debate

by Phillip Smith, Drug War Chronicle

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said in a Mexico City radio interview mid-August that he supported Mexican President Felipe Calderon's call for a debate on drug legalization. He also said that he will seek to build a united front with Peru and Mexico on legalization if voters in California approve marijuana legalization in November.

Colombia and Peru are the world's top cocaine producers. Mexico is the leading hemispheric producer of marijuana and opium, as well as being the home to some of the world's wealthiest and deadliest drug trafficking organizations.

"We are entering the era of the drug trafficking business where one must have these types of reflections," Santos said. "President Calderon is right to call for this to be discussed, without meaning that one is in agreement or not with the position of legalization."

Santos eyed California's Proposition 19 marijuana legalization initiative with mixed feelings. "How would we explain to an indigenous person on a Colombian mountain that producing marijuana is illegal and take him to jail or destroy the marijuana when in the US it is legal to consume it?" he asked.

Santos said he was perturbed by the distinction made by some in the US between "soft" drugs like marijuana and "hard" drugs like cocaine or heroin. "Where do we draw the line?" he asked.

"We are all affected by this scourge of drug trafficking," Santos said, referring to Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. "We must sit down and work out how we are going to react and what is going to happen after this referendum," he said. "All strategies that are combined are more effective."

Colombia cannot legalize the drug trade by itself, Santos said. "Unilaterally, we cannot legalize drugs because they are a problem not only for national security, but there are also international implications."

That President Santos should make such remarks is not much of a surprise. In 1998, as head of the Good Government Foundation, he co-signed an open letter to then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan calling for a "frank and honest evaluation of global drug control efforts" because "we believe the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself."

And two years ago, he told a London conference on cocaine that legalization should be part of the debate. He said then that there was no political will to do that. Time will tell if anything has really changed in that regard.

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