What the Decriminalization/Legalization of Drugs Debate is Missing

The legalization of soft and hard drugs made headlines recently, yet this debate is still poorly framed. Two sitting presidents, Otto Perez Molina from Guatemala and Juan Manuel Santos from Colombia, stated that head-on regional and world discussions about the narcotics issue are past due and that it is time now to re-assess the failed war on drugs, shifting towards decriminalization or legalization of soft and hard drugs. While Perez boldly favored legalization of drug consumption and legalization of production and transportation logistics in Central America, Santos tamely supported decriminalization of consumption of some drugs, like cocaine, but not all. The presidents’ statements echoed those of leading Latin American authors Sergio Ramirez and Carlos Fuentes and that of the Latin American Commission of Drugs and Democracy, presided by former presidents Cesar Gaviria (Colombia), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil) and Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico).

The presidents’ call for a debate about decriminalizing or legalizing drugs (soft and hard) is welcome. But both Perez and Santos’ statements
-and the responses they elicited from opinion editorialists and analysts, focus narrowly on the consumption side of the illegal drug business. In other words, this call has a heavy demand bias, and very little focus on the complex supply side of the illegal narcotics industry. What to do with the armed groups and blue and white-collar minions embedded throughout the supply chain? Neither these agents, nor their principals, would want to face prosecution or relinquish their ill-obtained riches. And even if they were willing to face prosecution and forfeit their easily obtained riches, would the same weak judiciaries that these groups have corrupted and fought viciously uphold the new rule of law that would emerge after either decriminalization or legalization? Would previous sentences be enforced?

The debate, so far, is missing a key point.

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