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Colombian President Says War on Drugs a Failure in Nobel Peace Prize Speech

In an acceptance speech, the president of Colombia urged the world to rethink its strategy on drugs, claiming that a zero-tolerance policy is harmful and ineffective.

Earlier this month, Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos used his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to call out the failed war on drugs. President Santos, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work toward a historic peace deal between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government, told the distinguished audience in Oslo, Norway that it was “time to change our strategy.”

During his acceptance speech, President Santos said:

“We have the moral authority to state that, after decades of fighting against drug trafficking, the world has still been unable to control this scourge that fuels violence and corruption throughout our global community. […] It makes no sense to imprison a peasant who grows marijuana, when nowadays, for example, its cultivation and use are legal in eight states of the United States. […] The manner in which this war against drugs is being waged is equally or perhaps even more harmful than all the wars the world is fighting today, combined.”

Colombia had been involved in a five-decade guerrilla insurgency with the FARC, considered by the United States to be a terrorist and drug trafficking organization. The illegal drug trade, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, had contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Colombia. President Santos negotiated with the FARC to come to a peace agreement with the Colombian government in November.

DEA marijuana illegal

This wasn’t the first time President Santos spoke on the ineffectiveness of the war against drugs. In a 2014 interview with The Wall Street Journal, President Santos claimed that criminalization has done more harm than drugs could ever possibly do and argued that, “The world needs a more effective, fresher, more creative focus to win this war, because until now we haven’t won, and the cost has been enormous.”

Colombia’s Congress voted to legalize marijuana for medicinal and scientific purposes earlier this year and HempMeds® Mexico began shipping its Real Scientific Hemp OilTM products to patients in Colombia this past November.

President Santos’ government also decriminalized recreational marijuana the year prior. Individuals caught with less than 20 grams of marijuana or 20 plants are not prosecuted or detained, but may be assigned physical or psychological treatment.

“We’ve had no better ally among sitting presidents than Juan Manuel Santos,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement. “His advocacy for alternative strategies is all the more striking given the extent to which he was understandably focused on achieving the peace agreement for which he won the Nobel Prize.”

President Santos’ comments come at a time when the U.S. is also embracing marijuana legalization. Recreational use is legal in eight states and support for legalization is now at an all-time high. A survey in August found that 65 percent of American adults believe the costs associated with enforcing prohibition are higher than the benefits they provide.

Learn more about why America made marijuana illegal in the first place by reading our “The Road to Prohibition” article.