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40 Years of a Pointless, Tragic Drug War -- But As Feds Crack Down, Reformers Fight Back

Tension between popular will and the political establishment makes this a time of hope and frustration for the drug reform movement.

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At a rally in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles last month, Sicilia called on Americans to pressure their leaders to end the War on Drugs. “Drug prohibition and the arms industry, which illegally sends weapons to my country, are killing and destroying us and we have to stop it together,” Sicilia announced plans for a march from El Paso to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness of the effects of drug prohibition on Mexico. 

Depriving criminal organizations of profit by legalizing drugs remains a non-starter in Washington. However the United States is becoming increasingly isolated. In Europe and, significantly, in Latin America, where the power of drug cartels has been the most lethal and corrupting, senior politicians, are increasingly speaking out in favor of ending prohibition. These include some of the United States most important former allies in the War on Drugs, among them, the last two Presidents of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox as well as former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria. It was during Gaviria’s presidency that Colombian security forces killed the world’s biggest cocaine trafficker, Pablo Escobar.

Then last month, something unprecedented happened. The current President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, says it was time to start thinking about legalizing drugs including cocaine. "A new approach should try and take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking,” Santos told the Observer. “If that means legalizing, and the world thinks that's the solution, I will welcome it.” Still after decades of imposing prohibition on Latin America through billions of dollars in military aid and threats when countries refuse to toe the line, Santos knows the risks involved in challenging Washington’s orthodoxy. “What I won't do is to become the vanguard of that movement because then I will be crucified.”

Jonah Engle is a freelance journalist. His reporting on drug policy can be found at  www.drugwardispatches.com