Today in GQ, Marc Ambinder reports on Obama’s second-term plans to tackle the War on Drugs. But Colombia may have already jump-started the process. On Friday, Colombia’s Constitutional Court approved a government proposal decriminalizing possession of small amounts of cocaine and marijuana.
This reform has been in the works for at least a year, when the Supreme Court threw out former President Alvaro Uribe’s draconian drug laws, including a ban on personal recreational use. Now that the government’s proposal has been approved, anyone caught with less than 22 grams of marijuana or one gram of cocaine for personal use may be treated for intoxication but may not be prosecuted or detained.
Colombia also has a bill in the works to legalize drug crops like marijuana, coca and poppy. Since 1961, the U.S. has led the mass herbicide spraying of coca and poppy crops in Colombia. By legalizing the crops, Colombia would almost certainly halt this practice, as Peru did last year, perhaps forcing the U.S. to rethink its tactics.
In the meantime, Obama might look at Colombia’s decriminalization as a model for U.S. policy reform. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, pointed out how current U.S. drug policy is out of step with the rest of the world:
The United States clearly lags far behind Europe and Latin America in ending the criminalization of drug possession. Momentum for reform is growing with respect to decriminalization of marijuana possession, with Massachusetts reducing penalties in 2008, California in 2010, Connecticut in 2011 and Rhode Island earlier this year. All states, however, treat possession of other illegal drugs as a crime.
The tide is turning rapidly. Last year, a Gallup poll found support for marijuana legalization at a record-high 50 percent. Just a few months ago, New York Governor Anthony Cuomo tried to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana earlier this year, with the blessing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYPD. Last week, Rahm Emanuel and Chicago’s City Council succeeded in a vote to decriminalize 15 grams or less of pot. Even one of Obama’s top advisers on drug policy recently said that drug addiction should be treated as a public health issue, not a crime. And Colombia, along with other Latin American countries increasingly hostile to the War on Drugs, are not likely to let the issue lie for long.