Colombia is the largest producer of cocaine in the world, the source of more than 90 percent of the drug seized in the U.S. It’s home to the largest Drug Enforcement Administration office overseas. For decades, it’s been a key partner in Washington’s never-ending “war on drugs.” Now, Colombia wants to lead a global experiment instead, decriminalizing cocaine, reports the Washington Post. Two weeks after taking office, the country’s first leftist government is proposing an end to “prohibition” and the start of a government-regulated cocaine market. Through legislation and alliances with other leftist governments in the region, officials hope to turn their country into a laboratory for drug decriminalization. Felipe Tascón, President Gustavo Petro’s drug czar, said he wants to meet with his counterparts to discuss decriminalization at the regional level. Eventually, he hopes a unified regional block can renegotiate international drug conventions at the United Nations. Petro’s administration plans to back legislation to decriminalize cocaine and marijuana by putting an end to aerial spraying and the manual eradication of coca, which critics say unfairly targets poor rural farmers. By regulating the sale of cocaine, Tascón argued, the government would wrest the market from armed groups and cartels.
This radical turn could upend its long-standing counternarcotics relationship with the U.S., where officials past and present are signaling concern. The drug was responsible for an estimated 25,000 overdose deaths in the U.S.. The Biden administration is not a supporter of decriminalization, said Jonathan Finer, the White House deputy national security adviser, who met with Petro before his inauguration. A former DEA official said he feared the move would limit the agency’s ability to collaborate with the Colombians on drug trafficking investigations. Billions of U.S. dollars have funded a strategy focused on destroying the cocaine trade at its point of origin: the fields of rural Colombia. U.S. training and intelligence have propelled Colombia’s decades-long military efforts to eradicate coca, the base plant for cocaine, and dismantle drug trafficking groups. More than a half century after President Richard Nixon declared drugs “America’s public enemy number one,” the Colombian trade has reached record levels.