INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: President Uribe's Victory Against Personal Drug Possession

Published: Mon 1 Feb 2010 08:17 PM
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SUBJECT: PRESIDENT URIBE'S VICTORY AGAINST PERSONAL DRUG POSSESSION
REF: BOGOTA 749
1. (U) SUMMARY: After five failed attempts, President Uribe
succeeded in passing a bill through the Colombian Congress,
amending the Constitution and repealing a 1994 Constitutional Court
judgment that permitted possession of a minimum dose of drugs for
personal consumption. President Uribe has touted the amendment as
a significant step forward in the Government of Colombia's (GOC)
fight against the growing problems of "micro-trafficking" and drug
consumption in Colombia. A lack of funding will likely hamper
implementation of the amendment, which anticipates medical
treatment for drug addicts and criminal penalties for those
carrying or trafficking drugs. END SUMMARY.
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PRESIDENT URIBE'S BREAKTHROUGH
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2. (U) On December 9, after seven years and numerous heated
debates in Congress, the Colombian Senate approved President
Uribe's project to prohibit the possession and consumption of a
minimum (formerly called "personal") dose of drugs. The initiative
passed the eight required debates in Congress, with 60 votes for
and 14 against, and was signed by Uribe on December 22. While
there have been minor protests against the law, the public
generally approved of this initiative; 68 percent of national
newspaper El Tiempo's readers surveyed approved penalization of the
minimum dose stipulation that previously allowed for the possession
and consumption of one gram of cocaine and 20 grams of cannabis.
3. (U) President Uribe has long argued that it was contradictory
to wage a massive war on drugs while allowing domestic consumption.
To ensure the bill's passage, Uribe's team significantly altered
the original draft, including the elimination of a proposal to
establish drug courts that would determine whether a person
apprehended with drugs was a consumer/addict or a trafficker. In
response to former Prosecutor General Iguaran's criticisms that the
bill would criminalize users of small amounts of drugs, President
Uribe's team clarified that the bill was intended to penalize
traffickers and provide help to consumers and addicts.
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CHALLENGES OF IMPLEMENTATION
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4. (U) This reform modifies Article 49 of the Colombian
Constitution, and reverses a 1994 Constitutional Court decision
that allowed for the possession and consumption of a "personal
dose" of drugs - a quantity that was initially determined by Law 30
of 1986 National Statute of Narcotics. Possession and consumption
of narcotics that are medically prescribed are still permitted.
Subsequent legislation or decrees are expected to provide
regulations governing the provision of medical treatment for drug
addicts and criminal penalties for traffickers.
5. (SBU) The amendment does not clarify what will happen to people
caught in possession of illegal drugs, the process to distinguish
between an addict and trafficker, and how new requirements for the
Colombian justice system will be funded. Almost 70 percent of
surveyed El Tiempo readers said that the state should require drug
addicts to receive treatment; however, the amendment specifically
states that the GOC would need the patient's permission to provide
treatment. Article 49 also states that the government is
responsible for public health and has the obligation to provide
cost-free health services, which includes paying for the treatment
of addicts. Implementation of a broad program to treat drug
addicts will likely overburden Colombia's underfunded health care
system. Colombia is not yet prepared to handle this additional
responsibility, and the 110 GOC-approved country-wide treatment
centers do not have the capacity to significantly ramp up treatment
for addicts. One of the most prominent treatment centers in
Colombia, Medellin's Carisma, has only 50 beds and a waiting list
of more than 200 people.
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MICRO-TRAFFICKING IN COLOMBIA
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6. (U) Micro-trafficking -- trafficking in small quantities of
drugs -- has become a new challenge for law enforcement and health
care authorities in Colombia. Micro-trafficking involves the sale
of illegal drugs at or below the previous limits determined by
Colombian law which had permitted possession of a minimum dose for
personal consumption. While the individual amounts for sale appear
negligent compared to the more than 120 metric tons of narcotics
seized by the Colombian National Police (CNP) in 2009, the total
revenues earned from micro-trafficking are significant. In Bogota,
approximately $1.5 million of drugs are sold each year via this
method at more than 450 identified points of sale, and the
Colombian Judicial Police (SIJIN) estimates that every 20 seconds
in Bogota, 3-5 grams of cocaine, cocaine base, crack, or marijuana
is sold.
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THE SCOURGE OF MICRO-TRAFFICKING
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7. (U) CNP Director General Oscar Naranjo Trujillo recently stated
that illegal armed groups are moving into micro-trafficking to
compensate for losses in cocaine production and trafficking at the
hands of Colombian public forces. He stated that illegal armed
groups are promoting cocaine consumption in Colombia by creating
micro sales points and supporting dealers. Eliminating the legal
possession of a minimum dose will assist the CNP's battle against
micro-trafficking and help curb this highly adaptable form of drug
trafficking.
8. (U) Micro-trafficking is difficult to control, because the link
between the dealer and consumer is direct and access is easy - the
micro sales points are spread throughout neighborhoods of all
socioeconomic strata, and sales take place on the streets, in
clubs, at universities, and are often arranged through the
internet. The drugs are easy to hide and sales are difficult to
control. The quantities carried are small and the permutation of
drugs, especially synthetic drugs, is large, making the drugs
difficult to identify. Micro-trafficking is further aided by the
fact that the hits are cheap - while the most expensive drugs such
as heroin and ecstasy can cost up to $10/hit and cocaine $4/hit,
marijuana cigarettes cost only 75 cents (the minimum wage in
Colombia is approximately $250/month).
9. (U) Micro-trafficking and ease of purchasing narcotics for
personal consumption are largely to blame for the reported number
of drug users in Colombia. A 2009 National Household Drug
Consumption Survey found that 9.1 percent of Colombians have used
drugs at least once in their lifetimes (see reftel), while the rate
is 29.6 percent for university students - twice the rate of
students in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru - according to a recent study
conducted by the OAS' Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission
(CICAD).
10. (U) Micro-trafficking has also increased recruitment of minors
into the drug trade and created violence in urban areas resulting
from turf battles over narcotics distribution points. The number
of drug trafficking sales points, the multitude of dealers, and the
cultural acceptance of the right to have a personal dose of drugs
will complicate police efforts to control micro-trafficking. In
response to this violence and the promotion of drug use, the CNP
has identified the fight against micro-trafficking as one of its
top priorities.
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COLOMBIA'S CHALLENGE
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11. (SBU) COMMENT: While countries like Mexico recently allowed
possession of personal dose of drugs, Colombia demonstrated its
political will to attack micro-trafficking and provide a balance in
counter-narcotics policy by amending the Constitution to prohibit a
minimum dose of drugs for personal consumption. While the change
will help the GOC in its fight against this emerging form of
narco-trafficking, successful implementation of the project will
require adequate funding and improvements to Colombia's health
system infrastructure. Unlike the traditional fight against
massive drug production and trafficking in remote locations, this
direct channel between trafficking and consumption will have to be
attacked in urban areas. END COMMENT.
BROWNFIELD
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