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Colombia Has an Alternative to the Drug War

There were high hopes that the new drug policy from Colombia’s leftist President Gustavo Petro would call for the legalization of cocaine. But while the ten-year strategy does not go that far, it moves in the right direction, with a focus on rural development and regulating the cannabis and coca-leaf markets.

BOGOTÁ – When Colombia’s first leftist government came to power in August 2022, many hoped that the country’s drug strategy would shift dramatically. President Gustavo Petro campaigned on a promise to move away from the eradication of coca, the main ingredient in cocaine, and in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly shortly after taking office, he called on Latin American countries to join forces against the “irrational war on drugs.”

According to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the world is experiencing a prolonged surge in cocaine supply and demand, with an estimated 22 million consumers globally. As the largest producer, Colombia has a key role to play in shaping the future of this booming illicit industry.

But the country’s new ten-year drug strategy, launched in early October, is likely too timid for reform advocates. Despite calling for Colombia to lead an international discussion about the drug war’s failure, the strategy still operates within the prohibitionist framework. Importantly, it does not attempt to regulate the cocaine market, even though a pilot program could have enabled the country to experiment with legalization.