President Juan Manuel Santos has given the go-ahead to Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro's plan to prescribe otherwise illicit drugs to addicts in the Colombian capital, according to Colombian press reports (and Colombia Reports, the first English-language source with the story). The announcement came after the pair met to discuss the matter last Friday
"We will create physical spaces in the most violent zones of the city where the drug addicts, mostly youth, can get away from being illegal and dependent on the criminal gangs," Petro said after the meeting.
The primary problematic drug on the streets of Bogota is, unsurprisingly, cocaine.
The colorful, left-leaning mayor, who suffered death threats after exposing broad links between the right-wing paramilitaries and Colombian politicians as a senator and who came in fourth in the 2010 presidential elections, first proposed the idea of drug consumption sites last month, but Santos was initially cool to the idea.
"A large part of the violence and crime that still persists in the city derives from the small-scale consumption and trafficking of drugs... We should allow some centers for addicts that provide treatment... where the addict can consume under relative control, without doing damage to society," Petro said when he initially broached the idea.
Santos seemed dubious when he responded days later. "This leap into the dark seems irresponsible to me because one could cause a lot of damage to society, youth and the country," he said.
But Petro appears to have swayed him, confirming after the meeting that the national government had approved his proposal. He needed the government's approval for constitutional reasons, he said.
"The only way to authorize the use of illicit drugs is if it is part of a medical treatment and prescribed by a doctor. We dared to present this proposal publicly, but we could not implement it without permission from the national government."
It's unclear at this point when the plan will be implemented. It's also unclear how the idea of providing addicts prescriptions for their drugs is going to play with the International Narcotics Control Board, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and the US government, but it looks like the Colombian government of President Santos is willing to test the limits. Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands and Canada (in two cities) all have such programs for heroin.
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