This essay examines the fallout from a 1979 proposal by the National Association of Financial Institutions (ANIF) to legalize marijuana production and commerce in Colombia as a strategy to reduce the violence stemming from the eradication and interdiction campaign taking place on the country’s Caribbean coast. The essay proposes a new perspective to the study of the “war on drugs” by decentering its history from domestic disputes within the United States and following instead the networks of exchange and debate running between Washington and Bogotá. I argue that ANIF’s effort in the late 1970s to articulate a less punitive solution to the illicit drug traffic prompted a conservative backlash in both countries that strengthened the forces that insisted on the need to militarize drug policy in the Americas. This new consensus worked against President Carter’s agenda toward decriminalization and harm reduction; acted to silence the voices calling for a tolerant approach; and ultimately helped pave the way for Colombia to become the principal anti-narcotics laboratory of the Americas in the 1980s and 1990s.
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