An influential Colombian research group has concluded that only the legalizing of marijuana in both the United States and Colombia can curb the corruption and economic distortions that illicit production and export of the drug have caused here.

Last March, the conservative National Association of Financial Institutions made known its position at a two-day conference in Bogota. Experts from both Colombia and the United States attended the session.

If marijuana were legalized, the association believes the government would receive more than $168 million a year in taxes rather than paying out $100 million a year in the futile fight to control production of the drug, according to the association's executive director, Ernesto Samper Pizano.

The association is a combination lobbying group and think tank that prepares respected economic and sociological studies on issues that affect its member banks and the country as a whole.

A growing number of influential Colombians -- ranging from Enrique Santos Calderon, editor of Bogota's leftist magazine Alternativa, to Sen. Alvaro Gomez, a leading Conservative Party member and publisher of the capital's El Siglo newspaper -- agree with the association that the only way to control the marijuana industry is to regulate it rather than repress it.

The association does not believe, however, that Colombia should legalize marijuana production and sale until the United States does, agreeing with the U.S. Ambassador Diego C. Asencio that such a step would put the country "beyond the pale" in terms of its international image and reputation.

Despite the fact that 11 American states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, Asencio points out that it is unlikely that the United States will legalize the sale of the drug in the near future.

But some Colombian businessmen and politicians are beginning to believe that Colombia should take the first step -- regardless of what the United States decides or whatever pressure it puts on Colombia to continue fighting the drug traffic drug along the Guajira coast.

Sen. Abelardo Forero Benavides has said that if Colombia is asked to continue to use military force to stop the drug trade in the Guajira region, than "it's only fair that the United States militarize Forida, too."

Ambassador Asencio praised the efforts of the Colombian government to curb the drug trade, saying "in some ways, the Colombians are doing a hell of a lot better than we are."