By Juan Carlos Hidalgo
Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos has stated that if Proposition 19 passes next week in California and marijuana is legalized in the state, it could force his country to rethink its drug policy.
“Tell me if there is a way to explain to a Colombian peasant that if he produces marijuana we are going to put him in jail… [while] the same product is legal [in California]. That’s going to produce a comprehensive discussion on the approach we have taken on the fight against drug trafficking,” said Santos, who, a couple of months earlier, endorsed the call for a debate on drug legalization made by Mexican president Felipe Calderón. However, Santos has also said that he believes that legalization will increase drug consumption, a presumption that has been rebutted by evidence in countries with liberal drug policies such as Portugal.
Today, in his opening remarks at a Latin American presidential summit held in the Colombian city of Cartagena, Santos brought up [in Spanish] the subject again : “If we don’t act in a consistent way on this issue, if all we are doing is to send our fellow citizens to jail while in other latitudes the market is being legalized, then we have to ask ourselves: isn’t it time to review the global strategy against drugs?”
Santos’ statements have been backed by his Minister of Foreign Relations, who even said in an interview with El Tiempo, Colombia’s leading newspaper, that the country’s new seat on the UN Security Council could be “a good place” to start a “worldwide discussion” on the way that the war on drugs is being conducted.
It’s ironic–and gratifying–that the president of Washington’s closest ally in Latin America is the leading voice in the region questioning the wisdom of the war on drugs. It shouldn’t be a surprise, though. Back in 1998 Juan Manuel Santos signed a public letter to then Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan denouncing the war on drugs as a “failed and futile” experiment, and calling for drug policies to be based on “common sense, science, public health and human rights.”
Even though the impact of Proposition 19 in California and the United States could be limited, Juan Manuel Santos’ statements show that its reverberations in Latin America could be significant.