Colombia Drug Policy Ignores Growing Local Market

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A new report reveals that the strategies Colombia has used to reduce illicit drug use have not delivered results, and that the country’s local drug market has grown exponentially during the past decade.

A group of 10 Colombian non-governmental organizations called Actions for Change (Acciones para el Cambio) published on February 11 a report called “The Colombian Experience of Drug Policy in the Last Decade.” The report examines data on drug consumption, sales, and enforcement, as well as offers policy recommendations.

“The balance sheet shows that, while drug policy has consumed more than 20 billion Colombian pesos [$6.4 million], problems with governability and state building, as well as appropriate responses to [drug] consumption, remain outstanding debts,” the report states.

According to the Health and Social Protection Ministry, the percent of the population in Colombia that consumes illicit drugs has increased, from 1.6 percent in 1996 to 3.6 percent in 2013 (the most recent year of the study). The report calls attention to President Iván Duque’s shift away from the drug policy agreed upon in the 2016 peace accords between the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos and the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).

Duque’s administration has stopped treating drug consumption as a public health issue with human rights implications, and instead chosen a more punitive response to personal drug use. Such an approach moves away from guidelines proposed by the United Nations.

InSight Crime Analysis

Colombia is known worldwide as a major producer and exporter of illegal drugs. However, the Department of National Planning (Departamento Nacional de Planeación – DNP) reported that the country now has the fourth highest consumption rate of cocaine and marijuana in South America.

The transformation of Colombia’s armed actors has allowed the local drug market to flourish. Drug trafficking was once monopolized by large cartels, but now fragmented armed organizations have democratized the production and the sale of narcotics.

The increase in illegal drug consumption exposed in the Actions for Change report can be tied directly to an increase in microtrafficking profits reported by the DNP. In 2015, the local drug market generated $1.9 million for criminal structures, about .75 percent of Colombia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In the same year, close to 1.5 million people reported consuming illicit substances.

In Colombia, it costs between $2,000 and $3,000 to produce one kilogram of cocaine. But according to the DNP study published in 2016, criminal organizations can earn 15 times that value selling the drug directly on the streets. Moreover, local drug sellers can lower the purity of the original product, increasing their profits even further.

Paradoxically, criminal groups have found the local drug market increasingly attractive, because it carries less risk than international drug trafficking.

SEE ALSO: Colombian Organized Crime Observatory

Colombia’s government must confront increasing drug use with a comprehensive strategy that includes prevention, education and treatment. President Duque’s ban of  personal drug possession only criminalizes users and falls short  of what is needed to effect real change.

*This article was written with assistance from InSight Crime’s Colombian Organized Crime Observatory.

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