Colombian Lawmakers Advance Marijuana Legalization Bill, Aiming For Enactment This Year

A bill to legalize marijuana in Colombia cleared another key hurdle on its path to enactment on Tuesday, advancing through a Chamber of Representatives committee that brings it more than halfway through the legislative process.

The legislation, which the Chamber and Senate reconciled to be identical in December after previously clearing each full body in differing forms, needs to go through eight total stops in the Colombian Congress over two consecutive years. Tuesday’s 26-6 vote by the First Committee of the Chamber marks the fifth stop, sending it to the floor for consideration before returning to the Senate for final votes.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved its version of the reform legislation in December after it received initial approval in the Chamber.

In an op-ed for Semena that was published on Tuesday, the bill sponsor, Rep. Juan Carlos Losada of the Liberal Party, said that the legislation represents “one of the most important and controversial discussions of recent times,” according to a translation.

“The regulation of cannabis for adult use in Colombia is the gateway for a new drug policy that abandons the failed paradigm of prohibition and opens the field to a policy guided by public health guidelines, the prevention of consumption and the guarantee of attention of consumer users,” he wrote. “The abandonment of prohibitionism also leads, inevitably, to the theft of illegal income that has been the gasoline that has allowed the perpetuation of war and violence in the country.”

“When a State decides to act in response to a public problem, the first thing that must be guaranteed is that its action does not generate more damage,” he added. “Regulation will save lives that prohibition could not.”

Lawmakers previously accepted the Chamber’s provision barring the possession and use of unregulated psychaocative substances without a medical prescription. The legislation also limits marijuana consumption and marketing near school zones and in public spaces.

A section adopted from the Senate version deals with respecting the autonomy of indigenous communities and having the government issue a decree recognizing their right to regulate the plant and “guarantee interculturality as an essential element of the fundamental right to health,” according to a translation.

The last major change concerned the effective date of the law, with lawmakers accepting the Chamber’s version, which says that the law takes effect 12 months after implementation of the legislation.


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At a public hearing in the Senate panel in November, Justice Minister Néstor Osuna said that Colombia has been the victim of “a failed war that was designed 50 years ago and, due to absurd prohibitionism, has brought us a lot of blood, armed conflict, mafias and crime.”

A supplementary legislative analysis provides background on the history of cannabis policy in Colombia, while also describing reform developments in other countries such as Mexico and the United States.

The legalization bill would support “the right of the free development of the personality, allowing citizens to decide on the consumption of cannabis in a regulated legal framework,” it says. And it would mitigate “arbitrary discriminatory or unequal treatment in front of the population that consumes.”

The legislation also calls for public education campaigns and the promotion of substance misuse treatment services.

The Chamber of Representatives gave initial approval to a legalization bill in October. The head of the Interior Ministry also spoke in favor of the reform proposal at the time. That vote came shortly after a congressional committee advanced this measure and a separate legalization bill.

President Gustavo Petro, a progressive who has been strongly advocating for an international end to drug criminalization since being inaugurated in August, has discussed the possible benefits of cannabis legalization.

In September, the president delivered a speech at a meeting of the United Nations (UN), urging member nations to fundamentally change their approaches to drug policy and disband with prohibition.

Petro also recently talked about the prospects of legalizing marijuana in Colombia as one means of reducing the influence of the illicit market. And he signaled that the policy change should be followed by releasing people who are currently in prison over cannabis.

He spoke about the economic potential of a legal cannabis industry, one where small towns in places like the Andes, Corinto and Miranda could stand to benefit from legal marijuana cultivation, possibly without any licensing requirements.

The president also signaled that he’d be interested in exploring the idea of ​​exporting cannabis to other countries where the plant is legal.

Petro also met with the president of Mexico in November, and the pair announced that they will be bringing together other Latin American leaders for an international conference focused on on “redesigning and rethinking drug policy” given the “failure” of prohibition. Mexican lawmakers are also pursuing national legalization.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a joint appearance with Petro in October that the U.S. generally backs his “holistic approach” to drugs. The Colombian president, for his part, said that countries need to “view the war on drugs differently.”

As a former member of Colombia’s M-19 guerrilla group, Petro has seen the violent conflict between guerrilla fighters, narcoparamilitary groups and drug cartels that has been exacerbated by the government’s aggressive approach to drug enforcement.

According to the United Nations Office of Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Colombia remains a chief exporter of cocaine,  despite  “drug supply reduction activities in Colombia, such as eradication of coca bush and destruction of laboratories.”

In 2020, Colombian legislators introduced a bill that would have regulated coca, the plant that is processed to produce cocaine, in an acknowledgment that the government’s decades-long fight against the drug and its procedures have consistently failed. That legislation cleared a committee, but it was ultimately shelved by the overall conservative legislature.

Advocates are optimistic that such a proposal could advance under the Petro administration. The president hasn’t taken a clear stance on the legislation itself, but he campaigned on legalizing marijuana and promoted the idea of ​​cannabis as an alternative to cocaine.

Former Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos has also been critical of the drug war and embraced reform. In an editorial published before he left office, he criticized the United Nations and U.S. President Richard Nixon for their role in setting a drug war standard that has proven ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst.

“It is time we talk about responsible government regulation, look for ways to cut off the drug mafias’ air supply, and tackle the problems of drug use with greater resources for prevention, care and harm reduction with regard to public health and the social fabric,” he said.

“This reflection must be global in scope in order to be effective,” Santos, who is a member of the pro-reform Global Commission on Drug Policy, said. “It must also be broad, including participation not only of governments but also of academia and civil society. It must reach beyond law enforcement and judicial authorities and involve experts in public health, economists and educators, among other disciplines.”

Meanwhile, a U.S. congressional delegation returned from a visit to Colombia in October, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who was part of the trip, told Marijuana Moment that one theme of his discussions with officials in the country was that the world has “lost the war on drugs.”

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Image element courtesy of Bryan Pocius.

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