BOGOTÁ — While the world decides on whether or not to legalize cocaine — which would be a necessary condition (though not the only one) for Colombia's transition toward peace — we might start with a more modest and less risky step in our own country: Legalizing coca leaf.

If coca leaf were legalized in Colombia, those costly, inane and absurd efforts to reduce its harvest could be redirected toward attacking cocaine production.

Fighting drug trafficking is an idiotic and useless activity that drains our resources and senselessly sacrifices the lives of our policemen and soldiers. It is also true that cocaine is not going to be accepted any time soon. There is a lack of political resolve on this right now, because those who suffer the worst consequences of the ban are a bunch of producing, and developing, countries.

When First World countries decide to allow the regulated and open consumption of cocaine (as it's happening with marijuana), they will find ways of producing their own cocaine, as Germany did in the 19th century, importing coca leaves from South America and processing them into cocaine in laboratories.

We shall be left out of the business and observe — like an abandoned lover trying to get a peek through the door — how all our efforts and sacrifices to protect the health of users in the First World were in vain. Not only will they continue taking drugs, but it is the First World, not us, which will make a fortune from it. But let us return to our point here, which is legalizing coca farming.

Instead of criminalizing farmers who do not cultivate a harmful product but a plant that has given nutrition to indigenous people in South America for centuries, all effort should be focused on seeking out laboratories, routes, bank accounts and money laundering businesses.

Fighting drug trafficking is an idiotic and useless activity

Remember, the coca leaf is not cocaine but one of its components, alongside acetone, sulfuric acid, gasoline and other items. Nobody would think of outlawing sulfuric acid to fight cocaine production, so why do it with coca leaves?

If this happens, it is because it is easier to find and fumigate plantations than control other substances. The institutions fighting drug trafficking need to gauge the success of their efforts in numbers, and seemingly it is less dangerous and costly to reduce the numbers of cultivations than those of labs.

But if coca were legalized, its production could take place in fields, thus limiting deforestation. Forests are now used to hide the crops. And it might even be easier to monitor sales and find the labs, which the prohibition mentality sees as the "real problem."

Coca leaf plan — Photo: Crista Castellanos/Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps prices might even drop enough to make planting coca leaves no more attractive than other crops. That clearly would not happen in outlying areas, where coca is cultivated for the absence of road infrastructure. Obviously, there are complications. Selling your coca to drug dealers would not be legal, just as it is not legal to sell them other components. The restriction would still leave the door open to criminalizing producers and does not resolve the problem of how to protect farmers from the war on drugs.

It is a complex issue, beyond the scope of this column.

My proposal is based on the premise that it is not just impossible to end cocaine production and trafficking in Colombia, but even to minimize its scale. The only thing we can do is to choose which sections of the population we wish to set aside from a senseless war. Senseless because, sooner or later, it will end through legalization, which will leave us standing like the idiot victims of a story we could control — but we refuse to do so.

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