The presidents of Colombia and Mexico announced that they will be bringing together other Latin American leaders for an international conference focused on on “redesigning and rethinking drug policy” given the “failure” of prohibition.
As lawmakers in both countries work to advance marijuana legalization, Colombian President Gustavo Petro and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in a joint statement on Friday that they recently met to discuss “geopolitical, commercial, cultural and development cooperation” in their bilateral relationship.
Part of that effort will involve collaborating with the broader international community to forge a new path on the drug policy front—a topic that Petro has frequently discussed since taking office earlier this year.
“Recognizing the failure of the fight against drugs and the vulnerability of our peoples in the face of this problem, Mexico and Colombia will convene an International Conference of Latin American leaders with the objective of redesigning and rethinking drug policy,” the counties announced in a joint statement following Petro’s visit to Mexico last week, according to a translation.
It is one of more than a dozen priorities for the “bilateral agenda” outlined by the presidents.
While the statement is light on specifics, the reference to the “failure” of the drug war—as well as both presidents’ past comments on the need for reform—signals that the international discussions will largely center on moving away from a criminalization model for drugs.
En su primera visita a México como Pdte., @PetroGustavo, le habló a la comunidad colombiana en este país, se refirió, entre otros, a la política antidrogas: “el balance americano desde Alaska hasta la Patagonia en estos últimos 50 años es un desastre”. #ColombiaEnMéxico pic.twitter.com/07DS6okDO5
— Presidencia Colombia (@infopresidencia) November 25, 2022
Petro said that the international cooperation on a way forward from the war on drugs is important, “given the levels of violence that the current policy has unleashed, especially in the American continent.”
“We are killing each other,” the Colombian president said in a statement ahead of his meetings with López Obrador. “And it is the product of prohibition.”
Petro has been especially outspoken about the issue since winning the presidency. For example, he delivered a speech at a meeting of the United Nations (UN) in September, urging member nations to fundamentally change their approaches to drug policy and disband with prohibition.
He also recently talked about the prospects of legalizing marijuana in Colombia as one means of reducing the influence of the illicit market. And he signaled that the policy change should be followed by releasing people who are currently in prison over cannabis.
To that end, Colombian senators approved a cannabis legalization bill in committee last week, following its advancement in the country’s Chamber of Representatives.
Prior to the Senate action, Colombian Justice Minister Néstor Osuna said at a public hearing that the country has been the victim of “a failed war that was designed 50 years ago and, due to absurd prohibitionism, has brought us a lot of blood, armed conflict, mafias and crime.”
Meanwhile, a U.S. congressional delegation returned from a visit to Colombia last month, and a congressman who was part of the trip told Marijuana Moment that one theme of his discussions with officials in the country was that the world has “lost the war on drugs.”
In Mexico, a top Senate official recently said that she’s heard from a colleague who visited leaders in several Latin American countries, and they’re consistently asking about the status of Mexico’s efforts to legislatively end prohibition and set up a regulated marijuana market.
Separately, Mexican Sen. Patricia Mercado noted the new joint drug reform commitment made by her country’s president and the president of Colombia, saying that policy can be transformed, including by legalizing cannabis, “if there is political will.”
El primer paso para que México transforme su política de drogas está listo para darse, si hay voluntad política.
Después de 3 años, la regulación de la #cannabis quedó en suspenso en el Congreso pero el trabajo está hecho. Se puede destrabar ya.https://t.co/1d6um4Ejoa
— Patricia Mercado (@Pat_MercadoC) November 26, 2022
The country’s Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the prohibition on cannabis possession and cultivation for personal use is unconstitutional.
Senate Majority Leader Ricardo Monreal, an advocate for reform, said in August that enacting regulations for cannabis will (again) be among the top legislative priorities of Congress in the new session.
It’s been about four years since the nation’s highest court deemed prohibition unconstitutional, leaving it up to Congress to follow up with a policy change, accordingly. But lawmakers have so far been unable to reach a consensus on legislation to put in place regulations for a cannabis program.
At the request of legislators, the court agreed to extend its deadline for Congress to formally end prohibition on multiple occasions. But because of the repeated failed attempts to meet those deadlines< , justices ultimately voted to end criminalization on their own last year.
Mexico’s president said in late 2020 that a vote on legalization legislation was delayed due to minor “mistakes” in the proposal.
While the new joint statement from both country leaders talked about convening a conference for Latin American nations, it’s likely that the conversation will also take into account developments in the U.S., where President Joe Biden recently issued a mass marijuana pardon and directed a scheduling review.
U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) cheered the official swearing in of Petro in August, saying that he looks forward to “working together to…rethink drug policy, and much more.”
A top Mexican senator separately said last year that “there is no longer room for the prohibitionist policy. ” And she also said that the influence of the U.S .is to blame for failed marijuana criminalization laws in her country.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.