Colombia’s new president Juan Manuel Santos came out last week in support of a debate on drug legalization, endorsing the call made a few weeks ago by his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderón.
Santos even said that if Californian voters passed a ballot initiative this November to legalize marijuana, he would team up with the presidents of Mexico and Peru “to work out how we are going to react and what is going to happen after this referendum.”
This seems to confirm the reports of the Mexican newspaper El Universal which claimed that Calderón’s turn around in his willingness to discuss drug legalization came after meeting with then president-elect Santos, who told him that Mexico should lead a debate on drug legalization. A week ago, Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla said she was open for a debate on legalizing marijuana [in Spanish], even though she personally was against it.
Santos’ statement came the same week that leading Latin American experts met in Rio de Janeiro for the 2nd Latin American Conference on Drug Policy that I spoke at. Among the speakers were government officials from several Latin American countries, representatives from international agencies such as the Pan-American Organization and the UN, and experts from academia and NGOs. Even though not all speakers favored drug legalization or decriminalization, most did. The experience of Portugal on the issue (thoroughly documented in a paper by Glen Greenwald published last year by Cato) was widely cited during the conference. One panelist, a Brazilian congressman from the incumbent Workers Party, said that Brazil needed to adopt the same model as Portugal.
Attitudes on drug policy are changing in Latin America. The question remains: Is anyone in Washington paying attention?