Colombia’s Chamber of Representatives has approved a bill that would legalize the cultivation of drugs that grow as plants, bringing to fruition the start of more legislative drug reform efforts to come, as promised by South American leaders during the recent Summit of the Americas.
Colombia’s drug crop legalization bill would make growing marijuana, opium, coca and poppies legal, but drug trafficking, including sales, would remain a severe crime, according to Colombia Reports.
The U.S. is a strong ally of Colombia’s and the Obama administration has provided military support to the country, even going so far as to station U.S. soldiers and drone aircraft at Colombian military bases, ostensibly to help combat drug trafficking networks. The country has historically been a key U.S. asset in the region, so much that they’ve even accepted prior U.S. administrations sending aircraft over Colombian poppy and coca fields to spray the indigenous population with herbicide.
Colombia’s current and former presidents, however, have pushed to realign the country’s drug policies in spite of America’s insistence upon continued prohibition. Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s current president, said recently that the U.S. policy to arrest drug consumers is like riding on “a stationary bike” — in other words, going nowhere despite the effort.
“One extreme can be to put all users in prison,” he told an audience at the Summit of the Americas, according to CNN. “On the other extreme, legalization. In the middle there may be more practical policies, such as decriminalizing consumption but putting all the efforts into interdiction.”
That summit, which saw President Barack Obama return home increasingly politically isolated in Latin America and dogged by a Secret Service sex-for-hire scandal, triggered a sharp reaction from the U.S. leader when the subject of drug legalization came up.
“I don’t mind debate around issues like decriminalization,” he said in an interview with the Spanish-language channel Univision. “I personally don’t agree that’s a solution to the problem. But I think that given the pressures a lot of governments are under — under resourced, overwhelmed by violence — it’s completely understandable that they would look for new approaches, and we want to cooperate with them. I don’t think legalization of drugs is the answer.”
Similarly, Cesar Gaviria Trujillo, Colombia’s former president, told a Spanish-language radio station in March that America’s war on drugs has been a disastrous “failure” which the ruling parties simply refuse to talk about.
“Society does not want to accept that people consume [drugs],” he told RCN Radio in Colombia. “You cannot turn away from reality. We cannot accept that theory. [American politicians] may prefer not to talk about it. We cannot accept it. We cannot be condemned to live in war because Americans do not want to talk about it. No one speaks in favor of the war on drugs.”
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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