Colombia's Drug Policy

Colombia's Drug Policy

It is estimated that about 60% of the cocaine consumed in the world is produced in Colombia with about 55% of production sold to North America and 45% exported to European markets. The estimated value of the country’s cocaine production and trafficking business is US$4.5 billion a year.

As the world’s largest producer of cocaine, it’s no wonder that Colombia’s drug policy heavily focuses on supply-side reduction. The core strategy is disrupting the production chain and conducting law enforcement against cartels. Since 1999, the Colombian government has worked with the United States on ‘Plan Colombia,’ which aims to reduce the Colombian armed conflict as well as eradicate coca cultivation. President Ivan Marques has also resorted to spraying aerial herbicides spraying to reduce coca crops. The country has also decriminalised drug use, but drug trafficking and production remain a serious offence, with the maximum penalty for drug trafficking in the country being 25 years of imprisonment.


Colombia’s war on drugs has been costly from both a financial and social perspective. Its estimated cost is 1.2% of Colombia’s GDP per year from 2000 to 2008 with the Colombian government investing approximately US$812 million in fighting against drug-related organisations. Furthermore, the combats have resulted in approximately more than 57,000 deaths between 1994 and 2008 due to increasing numbers of confrontations between drug officers and drug organisations.

Although the war on drugs has been costly to its economy, it did reduce the amount of coca cultivation up until 2013. Since then, there has been a significant uptrend in coca crops planting, with cocaine cultivation hitting a record high in 2017 at 171,000 hectares. Although the government’s halting of its aerial herbicides spraying program due to environmental and health concerns is likely partly the reason for the spike in coca cultivation, the program had limited effectiveness in the first place. With farmers cutting the stems of coca bushes to prevent herbicide from reaching the roots, crops could fully recover afterwards. More importantly, the spike in coca cultivation seems inevitable without provision of viable alternatives for poor farmers to switch from coca planting means that government has

Alternative livelihood programs such as coca crop substitution programs and productive projects have not been effective due to financial and political constraints on implementation. Programs that are in place are not followed through on, with many farmers not receiving promised subsidies and not training to market new products. Unless the Colombian government can develop alternative livelihood programs, poor farmers will continue to resort to coca farming.   


Photo by Flavia Carpio on Unsplash

[1] Chris, K. (2018). U.N. report says cultivation of the plant used to make cocaine is surging in Colombia. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from

[2]  Cristobal, R. (2018). Can Confiscation help end Colombia’s war on drugs. World Policy. Retrieved from

[3] Cocaine production in Colombia is at historic highs. (2019). The Economist. Retrieved from