Let me begin by saying that I am against the consumption of drugs. They are damaging to people’s health and I will always be on the side of a system that seeks to improve people’s quality of life and wellbeing. However, what are the appropriate measures for achieving this desired state given the sustained increase in drug consumption and trafficking and the crime rates associated with these activities?
In 1961, at the United Convention on Narcotics, it was decided to combat drugs and drug trafficking through their illegalization. However, this policy, which has been in force for the last 55 years, has failed. Between 1998 and 2008 alone, global consumption of opium and cocaine increased from 13 to 17 million people while for marijuana the increase was 10%, rising from 134 to 147 million consumers. This situation shows us that criminalization does not prevent consumption and leads to the empowerment and enrichment of dangerous cartels capable of controlling police and state structures. How can an economic empire worth almost 300 billion dollars a year be dismantled?
Let’s start by differentiating markets. As hundreds of studies have shown, marijuana is less addictive than tobacco and alcohol, substances that are entirely legal throughout the world. So if we decriminalize the production chain of marijuana, as Uruguay and the states of Colorado and Washington have done in the United States, and the state controls the quotas for production and sale, 160 million people would be taken off the black market and, simultaneously, thousands of women used as drug mules would be let out of prison for trafficking marijuana and be able to return to their families. If we accompany this measure with an intensive and effective prevention campaign similar to that waged against tobacco use, the main consumers of marijuana – young people between the ages of 15 and 24 – would buy the product in a regulated and informed way.
Furthermore, people addicted to harder drugs must be incorporated into the public health system, taking them off a black market that can only offer them death in terrible conditions. When an addict can no longer recover from their plight, they should be treated as a terminal patient, i.e.: at specialized centres that can help them to control their addiction with regulated doses of drugs.
The illegal market will thus be reduced exclusively to hard drugs and we will be ready to confront a smaller and more specific drug trafficking network with more resources.
We must address the consumption of marijuana, addictions to hard drugs and drug trafficking as matters of state. Latin America must take charge of a trade that is rooted in its territory and, due to the methods it uses, destroys and sickens its societies. Let us be brave enough to start the debate and change the paradigm by legalizing marijuana and evaluating what measures to take against hard, addictive drugs.