GAME CHANGER:<br />
How Will New Colombian Drug Laws Impact 'The War on Drugs'?

From HBO’s “The Wire,” Season 3, Episode 4 “Hamsterdam”

Dennis “Cutty” Wise:  The game done changed…

Slim Charles:  Game’s the same, just got more fierce.

Could March 16, 2012 be the day that forever changed the game? 

Weeks before leaders throughout the hemisphere gather in Cartagena, Colombia for the Organization of American States’ (OAS) VI Summit of the Americas, Colombian President Juan Santos unveiled a 56-page legislative plan that would legalize “personal dose” amounts of narcotics

Santos’ bold move towards legalization represents a sharp turn from recent anti-drug policies in Colombia; a nation that has been the United States’ strongest international ally in the War on Drugs and its main supplier.  As the world’s largest cocaine producer Colombia plays an integral role in combating the illicit drug trade although the $60 billion annual drug habit of its American partners has made for a complicated relationship.

Forty years of the U.S. led War on Drugs has done little to curb American consumption and Colombian production of illegal narcotics.  And though critics, advocates, and even President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton openly admit its failures, little political will exists to address and/or reverse the flawed strategy.  In fact instead of taking a step back to reevaluate the $7 billion spent on the anti-drug initiative Plan Colombia, Congress trudged forward ratifying a bi-lateral free trade agreement with Colombia that will surely extend these policies in order to protect American economic interests. 

But what is to become of the relationship now as Colombia inches towards drug legalization?  And what becomes of its citizens?  What becomes of the pawns in the drug game? 

At first glance, the only commonalities the United States and Colombia share are its problems illegal drugs.  But as we look closely upon the faces of Americans and Colombians greatly impacted by the War on Drugs we begin to see the reoccurrence of particular faces amongst the multitude – the faces of African-Americans and Afro-Colombians.

The U.S. presents itself as a stable democracy with a viable court system readily able to prosecute drug offenders and Colombia as an economically viable nation that has rebounded from civil war and quieted counterinsurgency groups that challenged its national sovereignty.  However behind the façade are two nations whose Black communities stand as targets in the controversial War on Drugs. 

HBO’s acclaimed show “The Wire” offers a fictional, but fact-based look at how the intricate web of drugs, narcotrafficking, politics, law enforcement, education systems and media impact African-American lives.  PBS’ “The War We Are Living” gives a firsthand account of the terror right and left wing insurgents, who use drug trafficking to finance the conflict, inflict upon Afro-Colombians living along the Pacific Coast.  Albeit powerful, these programs provide only a microcosmic view of the repercussions and realities of a failed drug war.

From Baltimore to the Barranquílla, poor Black communities have been caught in the crosshairs of the War on Drugs since the 1980s

From Baltimore to the Barranquílla, poor Black communities have been caught in the crosshairs of the War on Drugs since the 1980s. Crack cocaine disparity laws, mass incarceration, drug crop fumigation, and intimidation, murder, and forced removal by narcotics-financed insurgents have led to over 31 million American drug arrests, and 4 million Colombian displacements.  

Scholars and advocates such as Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” deem this anti-narcotics strategy demonstrates gross prejudice to the extent that it subjugates and even re-enslaves Black citizens, stripping their socio-economic and political power. The numbers concede the point: African-Americans comprise 32% of all drug possession arrests, yet only consume 12% of drugs used monthly.  And out of 10 million Afro-Colombians, state and non-state armed factions forcibly displaced 79% of the total population. 

Over last four decades the drug game’s grown fiercer and there's no sign that it will be relenting anytime soon. 

Given the United States’ voracious appetite for Colombian cocaine, its adherence to the War on Drugs, and its pursuit of capitalist gains abroad, President Santos’ effort to legalize individual drug possession may make little to no difference for African-Americans and Afro-Colombians. 

Yet the Colombian parliament’s reaction to such legislation remains to be seen.  Parliamentary response coupled with potential support for legalization from other OAS nations grappling with drug violence and crime could pressure the United States into revisiting its embattled anti-drug policies. 

So perhaps Colombia’s move done changed the game after all ... slightly.

Jamila Aisha Brown is a freelance writer, political commentator, and social entrepreneur.  Her entrepreneurship, HUE, provides consulting solutions for development projects throughout the African diaspora.  You can follow her on Twitter and engage with HUE, LLC.