By Daniel Pacheco, EL ESPECTADOR, September 1, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
As seen by the world, Colombia is cocaine and a few more things. No matter how many indignant letters are published by officials rejecting the association, how many publicity campaigns highlight our biodiversity and “the warmth of our people”, up to now neither James, Shakira, nor Maluma have been able to displace Pablo Escobar.
That’s why it’s time to accept it. There has always been coca in Colombia and there will always be cocaine as long as there are people in the world that want to sniff it. It’s not possible to have a country that’s free of coca. Considering this evident, but still revolutionary premise, Senators Iván Marulanda and Feliciando Valencia introduced a new bill in Congress, the first to propose a framework for regulation of coca leaves and their derivatives, including cocaine. The proposal is co-sponsored by 21 other members of Congress in opposition parties, Cambio Radical and the Liberal Party. This marks an important milestone in the slow but constant path to liberalization of drug policies in the world. And it does it by leaving behind the embarrassing moralizing in a country that can’t stand to see its reflection in the mirror of reality.
For decades, Colombia has been producing around 70% of the cocaine in the world. But even long before that, the relation between Colombia and the coca was significant. I don’t know of any other pre-Columbian culture that has dedicated such ostentatious symbols as the Quimbayo gourd and the leaf itself, which centuries later, with different people and a much more elaborate chemical process, continues to be a now dusty symbol of the earth itself.
Even though the position is deserved, the reasons and the effects it has on our country are obscuring an enormous injustice. The world market that demands cocaine, concentrated in rich countries, has changed very little in the last ten years. According to the UN, in 2019 there were 18.1 million people (users in the most recent year) compared to 19.3 million in 2010. In recent years the laws against the consumers—fortunately—have become more lax, even in the most prohibitionist countries like the United States. On the other hand, the most severe prohibitions have been heightened against those who sell, that is to say, against the production and trafficking in the Americas.
This disproportionate weight has left a trail of death in Mexico, Central, and South America that is counted in the hundreds of thousands, soon to be millions. In Colombia drug trafficking furnishes some 3,800 deaths every year, according to calculations by Mejía and Restrepo in 2008. And it keeps on happening, even though they may capture a drug trafficker or dismantle the “largest cartel in the world”, as we found out after the Agreement with the FARC.
Changing that requires a global effort, certainly. However, small early local steps are keys to moving the efforts to end the prohibition, even of cocaine. If Colombia could become the first country in the world to regulate the production and sale of cocaine for recreational and therapeutic consumption, it would show that a path in that direction is possible. According to the recent national survey of drug consumption in 2019, there are very few consumers of cocaine in Colombia; only .57% of adults between the ages of 12 and 65 have consumed drugs in the last year. We are talking about fewer than 200,000 people and, of those, fewer than 30,000 did it in the most recent month.
It would be difficult to attribute the blood that has been shed by prohibition to this minority of aspirants. It’s not the 30,000 Creole coke-sniffers that are fostering the drug business with the cheapest gram in the world, but the 18 million out there in the world, where they pay in euros and dollars. And they are definitely not the ones that ought to take responsibility for the deaths, but rather the prohibitionist policies.
But if Colombia could demonstrate that there is a way, not just with regulation, but rather with treatment, we would have taken an enormous step. For example, there are now advances in the United States for a vaccination against the effects of cocaine, as a method to help the addicts and avoid dangerous consumption. With a regulatory framework like what’s being proposed in the Congress, that vaccine could end up being developed in our country.
Colombia would then be cocaine, and also the vaccination against its effects. With such a development, what excuse would remain for prohibition?