The South American nation, Columbia, infamous for its huge drug industry is reconsidering its long and bloody relationship with the drug cocaine. Colombia has had four major drug trafficking cartels and several band as criminales, or BACRIMs which eventually created a new social class and influenced several aspects of Colombian culture and politics. The worldwide demand for psychoactive drugs during the 1960 and 1970s was the main cause that led to increase in the production and processing of cocaine in Colombia. Cocaine is produced at $1500/kilo in jungle labs and could be sold on the streets of the US for as much as $50,000/kilo. USA intervened in Colombia throughout this period in an attempt to cut off the supply of these drugs to the US. The drug barons of Colombia, such as Pablo Escobar and José Rodríguez Gacha, were long considered by authorities to be among the most dangerous, wealthy, and powerful men in the world. The Colombian government had also made efforts to reduce the influence of drug-related criminal organisations which is one of the origins of the Colombian conflict, an ongoing low-intensity war among rival narco paramilitary groups, guerrillas, and drug cartels fighting each other to increase their influence and against the Colombian government that struggles to stop them.
The most surprising country to take steps towards decriminalizing drugs in Colombia. Everyone knows that Colombia has a serious problem with cocaine trafficking and drug cartels. Colombia is estimated to export 90% of the world’s cocaine supply. And unfortunately, Colombia’s decades-long War on Drugs is failing. Iván Marulanda, a Colombian senator, is pushing for a cocaine legislation bill, which if passed, will allow the state to legally distribute cocaine. The drug won’t be distributed for recreational purposes and is intended to only be distributed by the state through a public health program. The hope is that this proposed legislation could see the government become responsible for its distribution. Those behind the cause hope that it will at least spark a conversation with regards to the future of cocaine in Colombia.
Speaking to VICE News, Marulanda outlined the plans for his bill, which is currently in the hands of Congress in Colombia. The bill ‘proposes that the state buy the entirety of Colombia’s coca harvest’. In theory, the state could buy the entire coca harvest from the 200,000 farmers that grow it now, meaning that their work would be legalised, helping them to work with authorities and cause less damage to the environment through deforestation. Coca farming is thought to be responsible for the deforestation of 75,000 hectares. Basically, they reckon that the cost of eradicating the coca harvest costs about $1 billion (£740 million) per year, whereas the whole harvest would only cost $680m (£505m) to buy – a significant saving. Senator Marulanda also said that the government would produce cocaine itself and supply this to the public. “The Colombian state would distribute it to users under a public health program, effectively through physicians who would evaluate if a person is apt for taking cocaine for their pain. Do they have the right physical and mental conditions? That’s the question we would have to ask. And then it would be high-quality cocaine.”
If the bill were enacted, farmworkers would sell their coca harvests to the national government, which would keep tabs on illicit market rates in hopes of preventing sales to traffickers for a higher profit. Then the government would control cocaine distribution through its health network. Adults would be limited to one gram of cocaine per week.
Additionally, because some Indigenous groups have used the coca crop for millennia, most often chewed raw for energy and to treat ailments, the proposed legislation would permit the production for ancestral purposes. The pharmaceutical and non-psychoactive use of coca, such as in food products, would also be allowed.
The bill also provides a sketch of what exports might look like. If implemented, the national government would have a monopoly on the export of all coca products, which would be made in accordance with receiving countries.
The importance of such legislation is to recognise the existence and reality of drugs. The Colombians are born and raised under this assumption that drug-trafficking is a war. There’s no information about coca and cocaine. So, with this bill we hope to open the conversation on these issues because without it there exist mere echo chambers where dialogue and discourse cannot take place.
Vedaansh Kaushik is a sophomore at Ashoka University studying Economics and International Relations.