Colombia should hold a referendum on whether it should legalize drug use, the country’s Inspector General said Friday.
Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez, a conservative catholic and vociferous opponent of lenient drug legislation, debated drug policy with former president and prominent Liberal Party member Cesar Gaviria at a forum in the capital Bogota.
During the debate, Gaviria, a staunch supporter of legalization, called the criminalization of drugs a “failure” and stressed leniency towards the consumption of marihuana in certain parts of Europe and the United States has led to positive results.
“The war on drugs has failed and more than half of U.S. citizens support the legalization of marihuana,” the former president said. According to a Gallup poll from October 2011, 50% of Americans support the legalization of marihuana against 46% who favor prohibition.
Ordoñez responded that the alleged failure of the war on drugs was a “myth” and called on a referendum to decide whether to legalize or fight the use of illicit substances.
“If you want to change the prohibitionist policy we should turn to the constituent, hold a referendum, because these reforms must be made facing the people,” Ordoñez responded.
The inspector general voiced his support for a recent bill ratified by President Juan Manuel Santos that determines drug use a public health issue, rather than a security issue, but rejected a proposal made by Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro to construct drug consumption centers where drug addicts would be allowed to use drugs without police intervention.
According to Ordoñez, Petro’s proposal would not lead to a reduction in crime, as suggested by the Bogota mayor, “but once satisfied [drug addicts] will look for ways to get more drugs.”
Colombia has changed its legislation towards drug consumption since Santos’ administration took office in August 2010; Following a court order, Congress decriminalized the carrying of small amounts of drugs for personal use and by determining drug use as a mental health issue, paved the way for drug addicts to be granted medical insurance to beat their habit.
The president has on several occasions called on the international community to discuss the merits the international war on drugs.