CANNABIS CULTURE – It’s easy for retired generals and past presidents to come out against prohibition once they’ve left office; once away from the pressures of the profiteers and champions of the drug-war, there is less stress in confessing the conspicuous.
For leaders who still occupy positions of power, addressing the failures of the Drug War is evidently more difficult. These leaders are the ones who see first-hand the destruction caused by their policies, so to speak out while still in office takes courage and places the paradox of prohibition onto the desks of the international community, forcing officials to consider the drug-war seriously.
In an impressive lead and an important step towards leaving these outdated and harmful policies behind, President Juan Manuel Santos (pictured above) announced in June 2012 that Columbia would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and cocaine. Further, Santos publicly agreed that we need a universal discussion on alternatives to prohibition. By doing so he has helped to open up an alternative debate among governing officials on how to stop the bloodbath associated with drug cartels that maintain a huge and highly-profitable monopoly over producing and trafficking narcotics in Latin America.
Communities who directly experience the violence know that focusing financial efforts on persecuting those in possession of marijuana is an exercise in futility. By keeping any drug illegal, a nation sweeps the trade of it under the carpet of corrupt gangs and criminal cartels, handing them millions in funds to build paramilitary forces often larger and more complex than the ones sent in by governments to stop them. The solution seems too obvious, but so does the reason it’s taken over 40 years to begin to address.
Alvaro Uribe, Santos’ predecessor who governed Colombia from 2002 to 2010, was hardly one to look at alternatives to funding the drug war. His history with the country is messy: the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (UAC), a guerilla group financed by the drug trade and notorious for the 1999 La Gabarra massacre, as well as the murder of nearly 5,000 civilians in the early 2000’s, was implicated with President Uribe’s government in the so-called ‘parapolitics’ scandal.
Congressman Mario Uribe, cousin of the then-president, was charged with illicit dealings with the armed forces, and five governors along with 32 members of Alvaro Uribe’s congress were convicted of collusion with the UAC. Unlike Santos, Uribe heavily favored militarization over the prospect of decriminalization and has been accused of letting leaders of the UAC escape after its demobilization in 2005 without punishment for their human rights atrocities. Worse, he let them integrate into key political and business roles in the country.
During the Uribe presidency, Juan Manuel Santos had been close with the president, serving as his Defense Minister. His work focused on the promotion and implementation of Urbie’s favoured policies, predominantly the military offensive against Colombia’s FARC. But after the 2010 election, which placed Santos as the country’s new leader, he began to distance himself from the previous government and when he appointed a fierce critic of Uribe’s militarization of the nation into office, Uribe and Santos had a public falling out.
With their escalating differences over both policy and personal issues that led them into adversary territory, Santos became free to speak out in support of the global legalization of marijuana as a means to stop the violence, instead of combating it by financing the military and prison industries to punish drug users.
At the United Nations General Assembly in September, Santos, along with president Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, spoke out in opposition to prohibitionist policies, saying “It is our duty to determine – on an objective scientific basis – if we are doing the best we can or if there are better options to combat this scourge.” All three men have called for a global initiative to re-evaluate the War on Drugs and announced their support for the legalization of marijuana, so long as they do so in accordance with the rest of the world – eyes being on President Barak Obama and the United States.
In the face of the severe violence and unrelenting power of the FARC and insurgency cartels, and as the bridge of the drug trade from South to North, Santos said his country couldn’t be the first to legalize drugs entirely.
If Mexico, Canada and the US are to take the lead and support the Latin American countries responsible for the majority of narco-industry’s exports, and who have therefore faced the most severe end of the violence, full-scale legalization in Colombia would be an option.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration refuses to re-evaluate its War on Drugs and will not publicly consider federal support for decriminalization. But with Santos divorcing himself from Colombia’s outdated and harmful tactics, pushing the most proven alternative for reducing drug-related harm into the spotlight, it’s hopeful that we are much closer to seeing an end to the corruption and violence caused directly by the War on Drugs and marijuana prohibition.