Virginia Comolli

South American countries afflicted by drug-related violence are seeking to promote a global discussion on the legalisation of narcotics. Increasingly, they feel that a prohibition-based strategy places most of the burden on them, rather than on consumer countries, as they suffer from extreme violence caused by competition between drug cartels.

President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia has taken the lead, opening up a debate aimed at finding 'new approaches' and 'market alternatives' in the fight against drugs. His initiative, presented at an annual session in Vienna of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March 2012, was enthusiastically supported by countries including Mexico, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

Santos underlined the impact on Colombia of the fight against narcotics in an earlier newspaper interview: 'We have gone through a tremendous experience – dramatic and costly for a society to live through. We have lost our best judges, our best politicians, our best journalists, our best policemen in this fight against drugs and the problem's still there.'

Pointing out that the framework underpinning the drugs debate has not changed for 40 years, Santos is proposing that states consider legalising marijuana and perhaps cocaine, but not heroin or morphine. He suggests that this should be a joint international effort, and is not planning any unilateral action.

Keep up-to-date with drug policy developments by subscribing to the IDPC Monthly Alert.