|Working a coca leaf plantation in Colombia.|
It's polemical in particular because sentences of less than four years can be served outside of prison. Since the great majority of family coca plots measure less than 3.8 hectares, this new legislation would in practice make coca growing a non-prison crime.
Of course, in practical terms it's been this way for a long time. Logistically, in terms of prison space and for the sake of rural peace, Colombia could not possibly imprison the more than 100,000 families which survive by cultivating coca leaf.
But there are also economic and legal reasons why decriminalizing coca leaf cultivation is a good idea - no matter what the Trump White House says.
First of all, erradicating coca leaf is futile. The United States has poured well over $10 billion into Colombia, in great part to combat the illegal drug trade. What does Colombia now have? Very possibly a record coca leaf harvest this year!
At the same time, removing a coca-planting family from the business only reduces demand and raises prices enough to make it worthwhile for someone somewhere else to start planting coca leaf.
But there's a third reason: Reducing coca acreage makes little difference in the drug war, because cultivation is clearly not the limiting factor for cocaine production. We know this because most of cocaine's final cost is paying for the danger of producing and transporting it. And campesino coca leaf farmer earns only a tine fraction of cocaine's street price. The tough, and expensive, part of cocaine production is transporting the stuff across international borders and distributing it on U.S. streets.
Even if ALL of Colombia's surface area were planted with coca leaf, it would make little difference in the drug trade.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours