Pubdate: Tue, 22 Nov 2011
Source: Star, the (Kenya)
Copyright: 2011 the Star
Author: Gwynne Dyer
Note: Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose 
articles are published in 45 countries.
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Like those generals who used to discover that nuclear weapons were 
not a good thing about twenty 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 were already 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 legalisation 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 forty 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 
legalising [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 legalise 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 US, 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 legalisation, 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 legalise 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 US-led war on 
drugs when he was in office in 2000-2006, but more recently he has 
condemned it as an unmitigated disaster. "We should consider 
legalising the production, sale and distribution of drugs," he wrote 
on his blog. "Radical prohibition strategies have never worked."

"Legalisation 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 legalisation 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 President Santos of Colombia has come 
out, still cautiously, to say that he would consider legalising not 
only marijuana but cocaine.

The international discussion on legalisation 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 realise how much the 
balance sheet could be improved by taxing legalised drug consumption 
rather than wasting hundreds of billions in a futile attempt to 
reduce consumption.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom