Other leaders rallied to their side, including Laura Chinchilla, the president of Costa Rica. Mexico's conservative president, Felipe Calderón, while not siding with legalization, has said in moments of exasperation that if US consumption cannot be controlled, the hemisphere should consider "market solutions," meaning some kind of regulated legal exchange.
Drug policy became a centerpiece of the OAS Summit held in Cartagena in April, too. The organization set a mandate to study drug policy alternatives and deliver a review in a year's time – what many consider a significant step.
IN PICTURES: The Latin American Drug War
Since then, in the boldest proposal to date, President José Mujica of Uruguay announced the possibility of establishing a legal marijuana market, in which the drug would be produced and distributed under state control. It would be the first market of its kind in the world.
Yet many drug policy experts in the region question whether a state-run exchange could work. Santos in Colombia criticized Mr. Mujica's plan, saying "unilateral" action is not the way forward. Others say corruption – in Guatemala, for instance – would only empower drug traffickers if there were a legal market. Still others note that talk of legalization, which focuses on marijuana, misses the point since cocaine is the big concern and no one is suggesting legalizing it.
But the debate, which has evolved from one led by activists to former presidents to current heads of state in Latin America, suggests that some kind of fundamental change is inevitable. "