Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Legalization of Marijuana in California: What's the Next Step?

The drugs issue has had a renewed interest during these days given the referendum on the legalization of marijuana in California which will be held next November. In practical terms the proposal has been defended in the name of the liberalization of the resources currently used in the war on drugs, the reduction in the number of inmates in California's prisons related to drug possession and traffic, and the clearing of the cartels' business by making it legal. However, the favorable vote this proposal is likely to get recalls the repeated problems of coherence that have existed in the field, forcing to rethink of the role of the producer countries.

For years there has been tons of arguments in favor of legalizing drugs instead of continuing the bloody wars that have occurred as a consequence of them. Countries like Peru, Colombia and Mexico have more than paid the price of a war in which the primary objective has always been to target the supply. While in the sixties and seventies marijuana expanded in the campuses of U.S. universities, business mafias made mischief in Colombia. In the eighties, when cocaine reaches an important status in nightclubs and private parties, Colombia bleeds to death in its struggle against the Medellin cartel, while society takes the value system imposed by the Mafia. Peru comes to play an important role in this business and drug money feeds the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas in what would be the country's most violent era in its independent live. The trend continues and the drug money finances guerrillas and paramilitaries in Colombia, while the governments of the region adopt different eradication techniques including the always questionable  spraying with glyphosate. In recent years, with the change in the mafias' organizational system, Mexico and Central America acquired an undesirable  leading role and now we see horrendous news everyday about the high cost in human lives posed by the war on drugs; images of the eighties in Colombia seem to be re-created and expanded today in Mexican territory.

-"War against drugs" in Mexico-
All this time there have been talks of the principle of corresponsibility in the fight against drugs; the Vienna Convention in 1988, for example, establishes the need for international cooperation, which seems to have resulted in the sending of money and technical resources to producing countries to tackle the problem by the supply side. On several occasions there have been complains about the lack of commitment by consumer countries to develop campaigns to discourage the use of drugs and that mean significant reductions in the demand.

-Evo Morales at the UN in 2009-
In that sense, the possible legalization of marijuana in California has an additional positive aspect: sending a clear signal of  "giving up" by the U.S. authorities in the fight against drugs. The positive side -if international relations obey at least some minimum logic- is that this decision leaves without floor any attempt to continue drug wars south of the Rio Grande. What is the point, for example, of condemning the rites involving coca leaf in Bolivia, that have been staunchly defended the President Evo Morales, when marijuana is legal for recreational uses in California? What sense does fumigation of coca leaves in the Colombian jungles have when American companies are free to produce and market different varieties and brands of marijuana? What sense does it have to morally condemn the use of drugs in our countries, as has been done all these years, when some of these drugs are free to use the most powerful country in the world?

Apart from the benefits mentioned above, the decision would have an important philosophical character by making the individual free and responsible for her own decisions, instead of having a watchman state "protecting her from herself." Another positive aspect is that legalization discriminates the costs of drug use by making them fall mainly on its users, after all why should the whole society pay for the habits and preferences of a few -even if they are millions- as has happened so far? What is regrettable is that in Latin American societies -the main protagonists in this hard and nonsense war- we have been unable to provide an open and uninhibited debate about the use and legality of drugs. It is sad that due to the lack of value that has characterized us to discuss these issues and make sound decisions before them, we have allowed the bloodshed that marks our recent history, the stigma of our societies for producing drugs that are highly desired in the developed world, and the social disaster that has brought this endless fight.

The question that now remains open is about the next steps towards the eventual decision to be taken in California. The Presidents Felipe Calderón of Mexico, Alan García of Peru and Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, have mentioned the need to adopt a common position on these issues, recognizing the incoherence that would be to continue a war against drugs in this new context. However, beyond the official positions of these governments, it is necessary that civil society takes a stand that rejects the conservatism, mediocrity and dependence with which these issues have been addressed so far.

As I mentioned earlier, the possible changes in anti-drug policy that the referendum in California means, will appear only if the international relations between producer and consumer countries have a minimum of logic. However, according to what we have seen so far, the only existing logic is that the consuming countries are interested in reducing consumption by helping escalate the levels of violence in the producer countries. So it would be no surprise to see new emporiums of marijuana and its use more than accepted in everyday life in California and other states, while "at the south of the United States" we keep killing ourselves to control the production of drugs that have not yet been legalized. As long as over there public health problems do not escalate, here we will continue our escalation of violence, of course, unless these other drugs are legalized too.

1 comment:

  1. Let's not forget that the strongest weapon against any social behavior is its condemnation by the same society, even if it is invented by the state. As clear examples of this are the strong opposition that exists in the United States against smoking, and the exaggerated rejection to the HIV virus (as opposed to any other virus). These two examples show the magnificent power of good educational campaigns against "intolerable behaviors". This sort of attempt has never been in place against drug addiction in the consumer world, hence the high popularity of drugs of abuse.
    If the California reform passes, we can forget about educational campaigns occurring in the future. On the other hand, the government will protect the industry that will market Marihuana, guaranteed.
    Once a profitable product, what will happen to the producer countries? Will they continue to sell the product but at a lower price? Will the violence really end when there in no illegal money in the way?
    I personally welcome the Federación Nacional de Cocaleros y "Marihuaneros" de Colombia.