Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recently traveled to Oslo, Norway to accept his Nobel Peace Prize, a prize he won for his work on a peace agreement between his government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) of Colombia. The government of Colombia has been locked in a decade-long war with the rebel group that has resulted in the deaths of well over 200,000 people and the displacement of millions more.
During his acceptance speech, President Santos took the opportunity to call out the failure of the War on Drugs: “We have moral authority to state that, after decades of fighting against drug trafficking, the world has still been unable to control this scourge that fuels violence and corruption throughout our global community. […] It makes no sense to imprison a peasant who grows marijuana, when nowadays, for example, its cultivation and use are legal in eight states of the United States. […] The manner in which this war against drugs is being waged is equally or perhaps even more harmful than all the wars the world is fighting today, combined.”
Few have a better or more experienced perspective on the drug war than the people of Colombia. Since the days of Pablo Escobar, war has raged over the spoils of the drug trade and most countries in Central and South America have been it hard, but perhaps none harder than Colombia. For the President of that country to use a world stage like the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to shine a light on the failed drug war is a big deal indeed.
“We’ve had no better ally among sitting presidents than Juan Manuel Santos,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “His advocacy for alternative strategies is all the more striking given the extent to which he was understandably focused on achieving the peace agreement for which he won the Nobel Prize.”
Whether in the U.S. or beyond, the walls that prop up the War on Drugs are crumbling. With states in the U.S. relaxing laws on marijuana, pressure that used to be exerted on other countries to toe the line on drugs is relaxing as well. The failures of drug prohibition are plain and easy for everyone to see. Now many countries are in a position where something must be done. A different path must be taken, and it’s fortunate we have people like Juan Manuel Santos to start us down that new path.