Pope Francis has been surprisingly progressive on such issues as gay rights. But so far he's taken the hard line on denouncing drugs. That could change if he sees that legalization is the best chance for reducing violence.
BOGOTA — I was convinced — twice over — that the charismatic Pope Francis might genuinely be infallible. First for being pope, because the First Vatican Council declared in 1870 that the Supreme Pontiff could not err, at least not in the presence of the Holy Spirit. And secondly, for being Argentinian. I guess I've come to believe Argentines' famously high opinion of themselves.
Many of the pope's early positions appeared to confirm this "infallibility," showing us as they did a simple man who was open to adopting more humane and understanding positions on issues such as homosexuality. He seemed to have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
But Pope Francis has taken two unfortunate positions on the issue of drugs, which demonstrate how fallible he remains.
He recently expressed concern about growing drug trafficking in Argentina, saying he hoped that his native country would not go the "Mexican" way with drugs. The comments prompted verbal protests from Mexico. The pope apologized and clarified that he had not mean to offend Mexicans, and that is almost certainly true.
But he did make a mistake in substance, not only style — for the misperception that drug trafficking making a massive entry into Argentina would somehow represent a "Mexicanization" of the phenomenon in that country. Or as they used to call it in the 1970s and 1980s, "Colombianization."
Gangs love laws
The mistake is in thinking that drug-related violence and corruption elsewhere in Latin America would be due to acquiring — as if by contagion — certain traits of Mexico or Colombia. In fact, the reason for any exponential rise in violence would be that powerful drug-trafficking gangs had developed in Argentina, with enormous capacity for violence. And if that happened, it would not be because of Colombia or Mexico, but instead because of the presence of worldwide laws against certain drugs like marijuana and cocaine.
Such criminalization of drugs have not at all reduced the problems associated with their abuse. Instead, they have very effectively fomented an illicit drug economy with its tremendous potential for related crimes.
This is then related to the pope's second misstep, namely comments he made a few months ago against legalizing drugs. "Drugs are an evil, and in the face of evil, you can neither give way nor make commitments," he said then.
That's a mistaken notion, because drugs are not intrinsically bad. The problem is abuse. Decriminalization, which doesn't mean a free-for-all but a strictly controlled and regulated market, is one way of confronting the abuses without giving way to a prohibition's vicious effects, like trafficking.
If Pope Francis wants to avoid Argentina "going the Mexican way," there is an obvious solution: Legalize drugs. If only the Holy Spirit could inspire this promising leader to reconsider his position on these global drug bans that have created so much unnecessary harm and evil.