In previous posts I have mentioned the growing debate over drug legalization in the Western Hemisphere. Over the past year, many Latin American leaders have sought to table the idea of legalization, or at least decriminalization, as a possible ingredient in the remedy for the negative impact that the global narcotics trade has had on their countries. The issue of legalization was also a hot topic during April’s Sixth Summit of the Americas. While US President Barack Obama was adamant that the United States would not change its position (against legalization), it appears that the abstract discussions of the issue may turn into concrete legislation in some countries.
On Wednesday, May 9, Colombia’s House of Representatives passed a draft of a bill seeking to legalize illicit crops. The legislation would decriminalize the cultivation of coca and marijuana plants, as well as opium poppies. The bill’s proponents are quick to point out that the manufacture and trafficking of drugs would still be illegal, and that this bill is as much about agricultural rights as it is about legal progress. However, Colombia’s minister of Justice, Juan Carlos Esguerra, stated that the Colombian government is currently opposed to the bill and any legislation that promotes drug legalization. In my opinion, this draft bill is still a long way from becoming law.
Regardless, I am surprised at Colombia’s quick legislative action on the matter of drug legalization. I am also surprised that Colombia has acted more quickly than other, more vocal, proponents of legalization. This should be a major concern for the United States going forward. Colombia, the United States’ strongest ally in the War on Drugs, has registered a desire to change its strategy. More worrisome for the United States is that this event might begin a flurry of legislation among like-minded countries and their legislatures. The legalization debate is far from over, even if the United States clearly stated its opposing position at the Summit of the Americas. I will be monitoring the regional developments on this issue closely; the United States might want to do the same.
- Max Rava
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