SANTIAGO – Ending criminal penalties for the consumption of drugs such as marijuana – and possibly even cocaine – is the best way to curb drug-related crime and bring about a reduction of drug use in Chile, former President Ricardo Lagos says.
The process should begin with marijuana, he said in an interview appearing Friday in Que pasa magazine.
“After one or two years we will see if we dare to legalize cocaine. It starts with a major prevention campaign and with providing non-prison punishment for those who are incarcerated today, depending on the magnitude of their offenses,” Lagos, who governed Chile from 2000-2006, told the magazine.
“The only thing that’s clear to me is that there were 10,000 drug arrests per year in Chile in 2002 and 10 years later it’s multiplying by eight, reaching 82,000. Chile needs to grow up,” he said.
Lagos described President Michelle Bachelet’s plan to remove marijuana from the category of hard drugs as insufficient.
“The difference between cannabis and coca is debatable,” he said, referring respectively to the active ingredient in marijuana and the raw material of cocaine.
Asked why he didn’t propose drug decriminalization when he was in office, Lagos stressed that “there were more important matters to address in the Chile of the year 2000.”
Lagos, whose politics are center-left, said he never gave drug policy any thought until the explosion in drug-related arrests prompted him to examine the issue.
Decriminalizing drugs will allow authorities to regulate them in the same way as substances such as alcohol and tobacco, he said.