3 Latin American Countries Working to Reform Drug Policy

Drug war-torn Colombia, Uruguay and Guatemala are working to roll back prohibition.


1. Colombia: Creating an advisory commission on drug policy.

Colombia's drug legislation is being re-assessed in an attempt to tackle drug use, trafficking and other drug-related issues that have plagued the country at all levels of society for the past 30 years. The justice minister, Ruth Stella Correa, launched on January 29 the first meeting of the Advisory Commission on Drug Policy (Comisión Asesora de Política de Drogas). The commission includes Former President Cesar Gaviria and former director of the National Police, General Oscar Naranjo Trujillo, as well as a number of experts and academics. It will evaluate the results and impact of the strategies on drugs that have been implemented over the past 10 years, consolidate the progress and achievements in different areas, and make recommendations for a new anti-drug strategy.

Cesar Gaviria was president of Colombia (1990-'94) and secretary general of the Organization of American States (1994-2004). He is founder and boardmember of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy and the Global Commission on Drug Policy. He is an outspoken advocate of drug policy reform.

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General Oscar Naranjo Trujillo was director of the National Police from May 2007 to June 2012. As member of counter-intelligence and special forces, he was involved in all major operations against the powerful Colombian drug cartels since the 1980s, including Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel. He has been credited with reducing the violence in Colombia during the 1980s and '90s. He is special advisor on security issues to the government of newly elected Mexican President Pena Nieto.

The Justice Minister said in her Twitter account, "We decided to form this Commission to guide us in the design of public policy with a holistic approach. We believe that the drug policy debate should take place within the framework of scientific and empirical evidence.”

She further noted that the global drug problem requires that countries seek alternative public policies to properly confront the issue.

Speaking after the meeting with the commission, the justice minister introduced a new drug bill to legalize synthetic drugs such as ecstasy. The proposal would replace current laws, which ban cocaine and marijuana, although possession of small amounts is decriminalized. Stella Correa pointed out that the Constitutional Court had already spoken against the criminalization of possession for personal use of marijuana and cocaine. Critics say the inclusion of synthetic drugs will only confuse the debate.

2. Uruguay: About to launch a broad national debate about the marijuana legalization project.

The Uruguayan government introduced in June 2012 a project of legalization of marijuana under state control. The government has struggled to gain popular support for this project, with opposition still at around 64%.

Last December, President Mujica decided to slow down the project, originally scheduled to be sent to vote in the Parliament in December, and announced that he would allow more time for education and debate on the issue. In order to achieve greater consensus, the secretary general of the National Drug Board, July Calzada, announced on January 28 the launch in February of a broad debate on the issue in coordination with lawmakers.

3. Guatemala: President Otto Perez Molina is a man on a mission.

Ever since taking office in January 2012, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, a retired general, has been seeking alternatives to drug prohibition and the failed war on drugs, and attempted to start a debate about drugs regulation. From the OAS in April 2012, to the UN in September, to the Davos Summit on January 23-25 and then the Latino-European summit on January 26-27, Perez Molina has been unrelenting in promoting his initiative.

Under existential threats from narco-warfare following decades of military dictatorship and right-wing militia violence that brought Guatemala to the brink of disintegration in the 1990s and early 2000s, and deeply committed to his country's reconstruction, Perez Molina is acutely aware that he may not have another option. He now needs to get firm support behind his initiative. Read more about it here.

If only the US government would follow the lead of its southern neighbors.