HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Legalize Hard Drugs, Colombians Tell New Organization
Pubdate: Fri, 15 Sep 2000
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: The Vancouver Sun 2000
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OTTAWA (CP) - Colombia wants to use the first meeting here of a newly formed organization of parliamentarians from the Americas to propose widespread legalization of hard drugs. Colombia will argue at the Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas in the spring that decriminalizing and regulating drugs like heroine and cocaine and channelling profits into fighting addiction is the best way to undermine organized crime.

The forum will bring together delegates from 34 countries to discuss a range of issues, including economies, trade and democracy. But a key element of the meetings March 7-9 will be crime, corruption and illicit drugs.

"The time has come to broach this subject," Colombian congressman Julio Angel Restrepo told a steering committee meeting in Ottawa this week.

"No country in our hemisphere can be considered immune from this scourge."

Indeed, the shooting this week of a Montreal crime reporter and revelations that MPs studying organized crime have asked for police protection are eye-openers for Canadians, said Liberal MP Bill Graham, meeting co-chairman.

"It's brought us to realize the problems that many Latin American and other countries are facing," Graham said at a news conference Friday.

"It can go to the very root of your democratic existence. If your legislators . . . are not free to travel and speak (out) without police protection, we're moving to a point where we have to recognize it's a threat to our democratic institutions and we have to take firm action against it."

That action has so far stopped short of legalization, even of so-called "soft" drugs like marijuana, and there is no movement within the Liberal government in that direction, said Graham.

The topic is perhaps best discussed in the Senate, said Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette, adding the chamber of sober second thought would provide a "serene environment" in which to deal with it.

"That is in the general interest rather than politicizing the issue, which sometimes doesn't result in the best solutions," said Hervieux-Payette, meeting co-chairwoman. "My colleagues sometimes have a lot on their plates."

Colombian Senator Antonio Guerra said all countries have to be committed to the war against drugs because all are affected.

"Narco-trafficking has an enormous power to corrupt," Restrepo said in a discussion paper delivered to the committee members Thursday.

"In Colombia, the cultivation of drug crops and the production and trafficking in narcotics has permeated all aspects of public life and the private sector."

Guerrillas and paramilitary groups are funded by "taxes" placed on drug crops which, in turn, perpetuate conflict.

While government efforts to prevent the disintegration of Colombian society have been effective, there is no guarantee they can last, said the official.

"If a truce cannot be reached, the government will only be able to defeat the guerrillas and paramilitaries by depriving them of their main source of funds, i.e., the proceeds of drug trafficking," said Restrepo. However, combatting cultivation and trade of illegal drugs in Colombia "has been so futile that drug trafficking has not only not been stopped but has spread."

Restrepo cited well-established economic arguments that you can't work against the laws of the market, and all demand generates its own supply. "The prohibitionist laws in the States in the 1920s are a clear example that violating the law of the market is equivalent to kicking the goat." Restrepo acknowledged that the topic of legalization is taboo among many, but he said it must be explored.

"Demythicization of this topic could be a great asset in the search for unconventional solutions to the problem of international trade in illegal drugs," he said.

"Legalization could mean depriving drug traffickers of the powerful economic ingredient that makes this illicit activity so lucrative."
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