Legalizing Drugs in America

Colombia’s President Criticizes the US while a Republican Senator Raises an Alarm
Colombian President Gustavo Petro

Recent victory in Brazil by liberal Lula da Silva added another liberal leader in Latin America, all of whom are usually critical of US policies there, and blame the US for the dangerous spread of drug trade and use in the Americas.

Earlier this year, this criticism came from former protest leader Gabriel Boric in Chile and leftist Pedro Castillo in Peru. During the last three years, Argentina’s Alberto Fernández, Mexico’s Andrés Obrador, Panama’s Laurentino Cortizo and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro spoke out on the matter, while a month ago, we heard from former guerrilla leader Gustavo Petro in Colombia.

Petro led the group, not only in criticizing the US for the spread of drug use and trade, but, also, for calling for drug decriminalization.

His country, Colombia, is the world’s leading illegal drug producer, and most of its drugs have been smuggled to the US, which is the world’s leading consumer of illegal drugs by monetary value: $100 billion every year.

Illegal drugs (also known as prohibited drugs) are defined as neither prescription nor over-the-counter drugs, but as one of four types: cocaine (including crack), heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine, with Colombia leading in cocaine and heroin.

In the US, opponents of drug decriminalization argue that it would increase the number of users, crime, and family break-ups.

Following are two opposing opinions:

On one side, Gustavo Petro, the new president of Colombia, as expressed during a recent interview with the Washington Post.

On the other side, Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and a leading opponent of drug decriminalization, as are many Republicans. Recently, he wrote a letter to President Joe Biden about the subject.


“The booming international drug trade, more powerful than it was in the days of famed Colombian cartel leader Pablo Escobar, and the destabilizing toll it had taken on Latin American nations illustrated the resounding failure of the U.S. backed war on drugs …

We need to construct a more effective path. I would like to appeal for support from consumer nations, principally the US.

I can’t go down this path alone, given that the demand comes from outside Colombia …

I am planning to make significant changes to Colombia’s laws, which for decades have included U.S.-funded efforts to forcibly eradicate coca plants and spray pesticide on coca fields,

I believe that this reflects a desire for profound change in my country, where persistent economic inequality and the toll of the coronavirus pandemic have generated waves of popular unrest, like elsewhere in Latin America …

Throughout the decades, my country’s relations with the US had been cordial, despite its ups and downs. But, there’s no doubt that this very important relationship is changing and might look dramatically different two years from now, particularly about drug’s use and trade.

I am planning to implement ‘phased decriminalization,’ beginning with coca leaf production by small-scale farmers known as ‘campesinos.’

The ‘campesino’ who grows coca leaf, in my opinion, is not a criminal.

My proposal was aimed in part at protecting a vulnerable part of Colombian society and eliminating one potent driver of violence …

Another important point, as long as there’s prohibition, there will be the mafia.

But I know that decriminalizing drug production doesn’t mean ending the American cocaine market.

At least, it means taking Colombia out of this cycle of violence …

I want to be perfectly clear, and direct about the responsibility of consumer countries — especially the US.

The US should not hide its head in the sand. It has a greater responsibility for addressing demand at home in lieu of focusing on suppressing production abroad …”


“Colombian President Petro’s drug posture towards the US is alarming.

Shortly after assuming office, he suspended arrest warrants and extraditions for members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a US-designated terrorist organization with roughly 3,000 active members …

President Petro’s embrace of Nicolás Maduro (of Venezuela) is equally concerning. As you (President Biden) know, the US indicted Maduro for his nearly 20-year narcoterrorism activities …

President Petro now seeks to do the following:

First, renegotiate Colombia’s alliance with the US.

Second, re-align countries in Latin America to be focused against us.

Third, request a reform in our countries’ long-standing extradition procedures …

About extradition, he said he wanted to limit it only to those people who do not cooperate with his government.

But this limitation is not only at odds with our current treaty, which was approved by a 96-0 vote in the Senate, but, also, incentivizes criminals to avoid extradition by bribing or coercing the Colombian government officials …

As you [President Biden] told President Petro when you met him during the United Nations sessions in New York, the Department of Justice and other federal entities will be included in our decision-making when it comes to Colombia's drug problems.

As the Senate is one of those entities, we look forward to discussing your future meetings with President Petro and his top officials [implying the Republicans’ rejection of loosening tough laws against illegal drugs]….”

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