Summit leaves agreements on failed drug war, but taboos about legalization remain

Cali, Colombia, Sept 8 (EFE) – The Latin American and Caribbean Conference on Drugs reached a joint agreement on Friday: the war on drugs is a failure and must be rethought. However, no consensus exists on a new model to regulate drugs like cocaine.

At the meeting, held from Thursday to Saturday in Cali, Colombia, experts, and government representatives – mainly Colombian – proposed a roadmap to suggest new ways of tackling the global drug problem that causes, among other things, the criminalization of farmers.

“International leadership belongs to our country, and I believe it is being exercised responsibly,” said Colombian Justice Minister Néstor Osuna in the first of the day’s panels.

And as part of that leadership, he assured, Colombian President Gustavo Petro has pointed out in various international summits and meetings “that prohibitionism is not the right policy.


Petro will present the new drug policy on Saturday at the close of the conference, an initiative that will stop persecuting coca leave farmers and focus on drug trafficking networks.

This “change of narrative” is an important step, say organizations that work with farmers and know much about drugs.

But experts like María Alejandra Vélez, director of the Center for Studies on Security and Drugs (Cesed) at the University of Los Andes in Bogotá, say Colombia is timid about its international leadership.

“I celebrate the drug policy, but I call for us not to be shy, at least in proposing how the cocaine regulation model could look like,” Vélez said.

“If we focus only on defending the small producer without proposing alternatives for the other end, where there is a market of 21 million cocaine users, what we fix on one side will explode on the other,” she added.

Colombia’s justice minister said he hoped “to move toward a world without illicit drug economies, with responsible, rational regulation of cocaine, heroin, opioids, and cannabis.” Still, he stressed that this is difficult under current international laws.

“Colombia cannot act outside this international legal framework,” the minister added, saying that “a regulated market is needed, with rational use of cocaine, heroin, opioids, all these substances, because prohibition and punitivism have not produced results.

For example, Osuna cited alcohol, which was prosecuted a century ago, and tobacco, whose use wasn’t reduced by “putting smokers in jail” but by prevention and public health campaigns.


The conference also looked at ways to move beyond punitivism, as the Colombian minister pointed out that under the current model, more poor people end up in prison than big trafficking bosses.

“Punitive approaches have limited results in any field, and to think that criminal law or a punitive approach or prison can produce results beyond the limits of criminal punishment is a common error of our contemporary societies, fueled by the phenomenon of punishment,” the minister considered.

However, he lamented that there is no room for action to end the punitive approach, which is why the current Colombian government believes that law enforcement efforts should focus on the foremost leaders of the drug trade, not the farmers.

“We are going to prioritize the punitive approach in the fight against cocaine, not against the coca leaf, not against the poor farmers who have no alternative. EFE


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