Pubdate: Sat, 19 Nov 2011
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2011 The London Free Press
Author: Gwynne Dyer
Note: Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist based in London, England.
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Like those generals who used to discover that nuclear weapons were 
not a good thing about 20 minutes after they took off their uniforms 
and started collecting their pensions, we have had a parade of former 
presidents who knew that the war on drugs was a bad thing -- but only 
mentioned it after they became ex-presidents. Now, at last, we have 
one who is saying it out loud while he is still in office.

President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, the country that has 
suffered even more than Mexico from the drug wars, is an honest and 
serious man. He is also very brave, because any political leader who 
advocates the legalization of narcotic drugs will become a prime 
target of the prohibition industry. He has chosen to do it anyway.

"We are basically still thinking within the same framework as we have 
done for the past 40 years," he told the Observer in a recent 
interview in Bogota. "A new approach should try and take away the 
violent profit that comes with drug trafficking. . . . If that means 
legalizing (drugs) . . . then I will welcome it."

Santos has no intention of becoming a kamikaze politician. "What I 
won't do is become the vanguard of that movement (to legalize drugs) 
because then I will be crucified. But I would gladly participate in 
those discussions, because we are the country that's still suffering 
most . . . from the high consumption in the U.S., the UK and Europe 
in general."

There are no such discussions, of course. Santos is being 
disingenuous about this. He is really trying to start a serious 
international debate on drug legalization, not to join one.

But the time may be ripe for such a debate because it is now almost 
universally acknowledged (outside of political circles) that the "war 
on drugs" has been an extremely bloody failure.

Twenty years ago Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize winner, the most 
influential economist of the 20th century and an icon of the right, 
said, "If you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of 
view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel." It 
is only because the government makes the drugs illegal that the 
criminal cartel has a highly profitable monopoly on meeting the demand.

The political leaders who are starting to say that it's time to end 
the war and legalize the drugs are almost all in the producer 
nations, where the damage has been far graver than in the 
drug-importing countries. In practice, therefore, they are almost all 
Latin American leaders -- but even there they have waited until they 
left office to make their views known.

Former Mexican president Vicente Fox supported the U.S.-led war on 
drugs when he was in office in 2000-06, but more recently he has 
condemned it as an unmitigated disaster. "We should consider 
legalizing the production, sale and distribution of drugs," he wrote 
on his blog. "Radical prohibition strategies have never worked."

"Legalization does not mean that drugs are good," Fox added, "but we 
have to see it as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system 
that allows cartels to make huge profits, which in turn increases 
their power and capacity to corrupt."

Naturally, Fox only said all that when he was no longer president, 
because otherwise the United States would have punished Mexico 
severely for stepping out of line. In the same spirit, former 
presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of 
Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico made a joint public statement 
that drug prohibition had failed -- in 2009 after they had all left office.

But gradually Latin American leaders are losing their fear of 
Washington. Last year Mexican President Felipe Calderon called for a 
debate on the legalization of the drug trade, although he carefully 
stressed that he himself was against the idea. (Then why did you 
bring it up, Felipe?) And now Santos has come out, still cautiously, 
to say that he would consider legalizing not only marijuana but cocaine.

The international discussion on legalization that Santos wants will 
not start tomorrow, or even next year, but common sense on drugs is 
finally getting the upper hand over ignorance, fear and dogmatism. 
And cash-strapped governments will eventually realize how much the 
balance sheet could be improved by taxing legalized drug consumption 
rather than wasting hundreds of billions in a futile attempt to 
reduce consumption.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom