While large in area, Colorado is relatively small in terms of population, with a little over five million inhabitants. But the US state may mark a turning point in the repressive policy that the United States has long applied to the consumption of recreational drugs.
Colorado and Uruguay have become the first two places in the world where the authorities are openly permitting the cultivation, sale and consumption of the plant, thus taking control of the market for a substance that is, after all, not innocuous. Both areas are located in the Americas, a part of the world that has been particularly hard hit by the crime and corruption that are generated by drug trafficking.
Uruguay rolled out its new laws in December, while Colorado made its changes on January 1. Both states are henceforth going to benefit from tax revenue on marijuana, and will also serve as a laboratory for this new policy on drugs. They are backed by an increasingly permissive attitude in society, while the UN, the Organization of American States and a number of political leaders are considering the positions they are going to take.
In Europe, countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal, and a number of capital cities, provide examples from which to draw experience. In the United States, which is the world’s leading consumer of narcotics, the federal government has not yet reached a decision to explore alternatives other than repression, which might reduce the violence associated with the illegal drug trade and increase the safety of consumers. That said, Alaska and Arizona are yet to rule out following in the footsteps of Colorado. The state of Washington will soon be added to the list, while the state of New York is also considering similar measures. All these initiatives are part of a wider, more advanced strategy, which is prompting the American federal government to reconsider its position.
While trends of this nature — which are basically driven by the failure of repressive policies — are going on in other parts of the world, Spain is now preparing to step up its fines for drug possession, and to do away with the offer of free rehab programs for addicts. This move would be a mistake, as a number of experts have been pointing out for some time now, given that greater severity in prosecution does not reduce consumption. What’s more, an official “zero tolerance” policy affords a wide field of action for the drug mafias who operate outside the law, leading to corruption and the deterioration of the institutional structures of a democratic country.
For any reasonable strategy to deal with the problem of drug use, governments must act on two fronts at once, combining campaigns to increase public awareness of the risks of narcotics with therapeutic approaches to the problem. What must on no account be done is simply to shut the door on new, socially oriented strategies.