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News (Media Awareness Project) - Kenya: Column: Ceasefire In The War On Drugs?
Title:Kenya: Column: Ceasefire In The War On Drugs?
Published On:2011-11-22
Source:Star, the (Kenya)
Fetched On:2011-11-27 06:01:01

Like those generals who used to discover that nuclear weapons were
not a good thing about twenty minutes after they took off their
uniforms and started collecting their pensions, we have had a parade
of former presidents who knew that the war on drugs was a bad thing -
but only mentioned it after they were already ex-presidents. Now, at
last, we have one who is saying it out loud while he is still in office.

President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, the country that has
suffered even more than Mexico from the drug wars, is an honest and
serious man. He is also very brave, because any political leader who
advocates the legalisation of narcotic drugs will become a prime
target of the prohibition industry. He has chosen to do it anyway.

"We are basically still thinking within the same framework as we have
done for the past forty years," he told "The Observer" in a recent
interview in Bogota. "A new approach should try and take away the
violent profit that comes with drug trafficking....If that means
legalising [drugs]...then I will welcome it."

Santos has no intention of becoming a kamikaze politician: "What I
won't do is become the vanguard of that movement [to legalise drugs]
because then I will be crucified. But I would gladly participate in
those discussions, because we are the country that's still suffering
most...from the high consumption in the US, the UK and Europe in general."

There are no such discussions, of course. Santos is being
disingenuous about this; he is really trying to start a serious
international debate on drug legalisation, not to join one. But the
time may be ripe for such a debate, because it is now almost
universally acknowledged (outside of political circles) that the "war
on drugs" has been an extremely bloody failure.

Twenty years ago Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize winner, the most
influential economist of the 20th century, and an icon of the right,
said: "If you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of
view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel." It
is only because the government makes the drugs illegal that the
criminal cartel has a highly profitable monopoly on meeting the demand.

The political leaders who are starting to say that it's time to end
the war and legalise the drugs are almost all in the producer
nations, where the damage has been far graver than in the
drug-importing countries. In practice, therefore, they are almost all
Latin American leaders - but even there they have waited until they
left office to make their views known.

Former Mexican president Vicente Fox supported the US-led war on
drugs when he was in office in 2000-2006, but more recently he has
condemned it as an unmitigated disaster. "We should consider
legalising the production, sale and distribution of drugs," he wrote
on his blog. "Radical prohibition strategies have never worked."

"Legalisation does not mean that drugs are good," Fox added, "but we
have to see it as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system
that allows cartels to make huge profits, which in turn increases
their power and capacity to corrupt."

Naturally, Fox only said all that when he was no longer president,
because otherwise the United States would have punished Mexico
severely for stepping out of line. In the same spirit, former
presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of
Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico made a joint public statement
that drug prohibition had failed in 2009 - after they had all left office.

But gradually Latin American leaders are losing their fear of
Washington. Last year Mexican President Felipe Calderon called for a
debate on the legalisation of the drug trade, although he carefully
stressed that he himself was against the idea. (Then why did you
bring it up, Felipe?) And now President Santos of Colombia has come
out, still cautiously, to say that he would consider legalising not
only marijuana but cocaine.

The international discussion on legalisation that Santos wants will
not start tomorrow, or even next year, but common sense on drugs is
finally getting the upper hand over ignorance, fear and dogmatism.
And cash-strapped governments will eventually realise how much the
balance sheet could be improved by taxing legalised drug consumption
rather than wasting hundreds of billions in a futile attempt to
reduce consumption.
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