Colombian prosecutor calls for drug legalisation referendum


COLOMBIA’S CHIEF public prosecutor has called for a referendum on whether to legalise drug consumption, in response to plans to set up a network of public centres where users can consume illicit drugs under supervision.

The so-called “controlled consumption centres” are part of a drive by Gustavo Petro, the mayor of the capital, Bogotá, to reduce drug-related crime in the city. The initiative is one of a growing number of measures across Latin America seeking to move away from current policies criminalising drug use.

Speaking at the first Colombian conference on drugs policy in Bogotá, the country’s top prosecutor, Alejandro Ordóñez, said on Friday that if Colombia was to tolerate drug consumption it would need to hold a referendum in order to change the constitution, arguing that “such reforms need the support of the country”.

Colombia has fought a long US-funded war against its illegal cocaine industry.

After some years of success in reducing the amount of land given over to production of the coca leaf, the main ingredient in cocaine, the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime reported last month that coca production in the country was increasing again.

With no end in sight to drug-related violence and corruption despite the billions spent on eradication in the last decade a growing number of public figures in Colombia, led by former president César Gaviria, have publicly called for the international community to rethink the prohibition on drugs.

The US is fiercely opposed to any weakening of prohibition. US president Barack Obama recently sacked his top Latin America adviser, Dan Restrepo, following the embarrassment of having several of his closest allies in the region use his presence at April’s Summit of the Americas to demand that he rethink his country’s four-decade long “war on drugs”.

His host, Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia, one of the US’s closest allies in the hemisphere, led a group of regional leaders whose countries are plagued by drug violence in calling for a debate on alternatives to prohibition, including the possible regulation of marijuana and cocaine in the same manner as alcohol and tobacco.