Juan Manuel Santos: We are worse off in the fight against drugs than 50 years ago

Former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos believes that in the fight against drugs the world today is worse than 50 years ago because the problem, far from diminishing, has increased due to prohibition and that is why it is necessary to change the approach.

Santos, president from 2010 to 2018, and 2016 Nobel Peace Prize winner, is part of the Global Commission on Drug Policy that this Tuesday published its annual report in which it proposes a restructuring of the United Nations drug control system to have better results.

“The international legislation that exists on this issue has been a failure. After 50 years, we are worse off today than we were when those conventions were passed, and we have to change the approach and that comes down to a single word: prohibition, “he said in a virtual interview about the reason for that proposal.

For this reason, the report calls for the prohibition to be eliminated and all drugs be regulated, says Santos, who assures that “there are already many reasons to ask for that, reasons that are based on experience and evidence and what we have lived through. and suffered with the current policy. “

The bold reform proposal also includes that the criteria for classifying controlled substances leave the orbit of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and pass to the World Organization of the Health (WHO), so that the drug problem has a less repressive and more public health approach.


The former president is confident that this may be possible because in recent years there has been “a very significant change in the perception and attitude of the people in general about the drug problem” in many European countries and even in the United States. where “thinking on this issue has evolved.”

“You see, for example, in the United States how in the 70s less than 25% of people said that for no reason it was possible to legalize or regulate drug trafficking. Today, between 68 and 91% say that you have to have one. much more pragmatic, more flexible policy and approves regulation “, he explains.

He also assures that the current conventions “in a certain way become an obstacle so that many countries that would like to advance further do not do so because they say that international law does not allow them. That is why the conventions must be changed,” he emphasizes.

However, he acknowledges that taking this turn “is not easy” because there are many obstacles from countries such as China and other Asians, Russia and the Middle East, which have stricter drug laws and are against relaxation.

The evidence is showing us that if we continue with the prohibitionist policy, all we do is see a strengthening of the international mafias that control drug trafficking“with all the harmful effects that this entails” in terms of health, violence, overcrowding of prisons (…) The prohibition produces many more negative than positive effects, “he says.

Santos is convinced that “the fight against drugs cannot be simply and simply to punish and prohibit drug use and trafficking because that has failed” and that is why “a policy with a focus on public health and rights is needed. humans”.

At this point, the advances in legalization, starting with cannabis, in countries such as Portugal, Uruguay and Canada stand out, which have brought with them a considerable decrease in violence associated with drugs and health problems.

“It is proven that prohibiting drug use does not reduce it, on the contrary, criminal organizations, which have more and more power, make sure that young people, children in schools start using,” he adds.


Regarding Colombia, “the country that has suffered the most in this world fight against drugs and the one that has paid the most costs,” he says that as Minister of Defense and as President he applied “the prohibitionist policies that were in force (…) with all those of the law and with all the forcefulness “, but without success, he now recognizes.

“Today I am the most convinced that this policy failed and the results of Colombia show it. We continue to be the leading exporter of cocaine to world markets, “and although the large cartels were dismantled,” there are many small cartels and the big mafias, for example Mexican, are already in Colombia, “he says.

And he adds: “That may be the perfect example of how the policy that we have applied in the last 50 years failed and I say it as a personal experience.”

Regarding the government’s plan to resume the aerial spraying of illicit crops with the herbicide glyphosate, which were suspended when he was president due to damage to health and the environment, he considers it a setback and believes that it will not be easy to resume this practice.

“I see it difficult, I see it unnecessary, I see it counterproductive and I believe that this government is not going to make the sprinkling return” because of the internal opposition and because “even the United States (…) is no longer insisting on returning to the sprinkling, “he concludes.

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Juan Manuel Santos: We are worse off in the fight against drugs than 50 years ago