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'US Spends More on Drug Rehab than on Plan Colombia'

A FARC poster criticizing Plan Colombia A FARC poster criticizing Plan Colombia

The US ambassador to Colombia has emphasized that the country now spends more on domestic treatment and prevention programs than on combating drug production via the Plan Colombia aid program.

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In a  two-part interview with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, US Ambassador Michael McKinley highlighted the United States' shifting approach to the drug war. He said the country spent more on domestic prevention and treatment programs in the past three years than on Plan Colombia, a program of approximately $7.5 billion that was passed in 2000, and provided mostly military aid to Colombia. 

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the US federal government spent $10.1 billion on drug prevention and treatment programs in 2012.

McKinley added that in terms of anti-drug policy, the best option was a combination of what El Tiempo called the "repressive" approach with a strategy focused on treatment. "The answer isn't total war, nor is it legalization in its most extreme form," he said.

While describing US efforts to shift the focus of its drug policy, McKinley cited cited three former Latin American presidents who were part of a 19-person panel which called for a global shift on drug policy in 2011.

Since then, other Latin American presidents -- from President Otto Perez of Guatemala to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia -- have spoken of the need to debate reforming drug policy across Latin America.

InSight Crime Analysis

The United States has undergone an important shift by investing more in treatment and rehabilitation programs than in fighting drug production in Colombia. Alongside the legalization of marijuana in two states last year, such changes hint at a slow evolution in the country's drug policy.

Nevertheless, some critics say these changes have been mostly superficial. "The greatest shift has involved not the substance but the rhetoric of top federal drug control officials, who prefer to present themselves as advocates of a public health approach to illicit drugs while clinging tightly to criminal justice and other coercive methods," Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the advocacy group the Drug Policy Alliance, told InSight Crime. 

The United States has been less willing to openly voice support for drug policy reform efforts in Latin America, including Bolivia's successful campaign in the United Nations to decriminalize traditional uses of coca leaf. 

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