Drugs | 3/5/2009 12:00:00 AM
Drugs: Uribe against the current
For the fifth time, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe is getting ready to try to convince Congress to penalize consumption of illegal drugs.
This time the president wants to assure a vote in Congress about an issue that has almost become an obsession for him. It is still unclear whether the government will present constitutional reform legislation or a regular legislation. The government wants to put limits on the Constitutional Court decision that came out 15 years ago which considers that the consumption of the personal use of drugs is an individual right for the Colombian people.
The government’s arguments, at first glance, make sense. The domestic demand for drugs has grown, as nine percent of the population says they have tried drugs at least once in their lifetimes and there are 300,000 addicts. The president believes that the consumption of a small dose of drugs has resulted in an increase in domestic drug trading which goes unpunished because drug dealers camouflage what is called personal dose what in reality is to be sold.
But the government’s arguments which are popular among common people are full of gaps and inconsistencies. On the one hand, the international experience shows that the consumption of drugs is growing everywhere- in countries where drug use is illegal just as in countries where it is not. What differentiates some countries with others is that where personal drug use is legal, the government has more possibilities to offer treatment to addicts and exercise control over the activity. Also, in prohibitionist countries, criminal networks are much more powerful.
Another problem is that the arguments of the government is that it reinforces social prejudices such as that every recreational drug user is an addict, when in reality there are many people who use drugs only occasionally. In a recent survey it was surprising that Colombians find the crack user on the streets as more dangerous than the drug trafficker.
That prejudice about drug users reinforces some of the proposals that the government has prepared like the creation of some courts that follow procedures similar to what exists in the United States, where a judge can force a user to receive therapy under threat of going to jail.
The president puts forward more moral reasons than scientific ones in his desire to prohibit the personal dose of drugs. If he knows that demand has grown with or without prohibition, under his idea of order and social behavior, it is better to ban drugs than tolerate them, which at the same time is very profitable politically. “People applaud the president when he talks about the issue,” says Senator Armando Benedetti, who despite being an Uribe supporter defends the personal dose of drugs. This has become such an ideological debate that many congresspeople prefer to ignore the issue to avoid being stigmatized.
That is why many think that this time the government can move the initiative forward. That is worrying because that would mean that the country is unaware of the evidence that there is across the world about the greater possibility of managing the problem of drugs, as a public health issue instead of with moral demonization.
Nobody believes that drug use is good, recommendable or ideal. It is simply a reality of the human condition and of culture. All civilizations have turned to them, and many have prohibited them. It is enough to remember the harmful criminal consequences that the prohibition of liquor had in the United States almost a century ago. Obviously the globalization of criminal networks and the boom in demand make the problem of drug use more serious. But prohibition does not solve the problem, and that has already been proven.