Colombia’s president says lawmakers who voted to shelve a marijuana legalization bill this week are only helping to perpetuate illegal drug trafficking and the violence associated with the unregulated trade.
While the cannabis legislation advanced through the Chamber of Representatives and a Senate committee, the full Senate blocked it from advancing on Tuesday, which supporters blame on misinformation surrounding a separate decree President Gustavo Petro issued to end broader drug criminalization.
Con tumbar la ley de legalización del cannabis lo único que se hace es elevarle las ganancias al narcotráfico y su violencia.
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) December 13, 2023
“By overturning the cannabis legalization law, the only thing you do is increase the profits of drug trafficking and its violence,” Petro said in a post on X (formerly Twitter) on Thursday, according to a translation.
Because the bill wasn’t approved in its fourth of eight needed debates this week, lawmakers will need to once again start the two-year legislative process over again in 2024 in order to potentially enact marijuana legalization as a constitutional amendment.
The president is a vocal critic of the drug war who has expressed support for legalizing and regulating cannabis, but he hasn’t been especially public about his position on the marijuana measure that was championed by Rep. Juan Carlos Losada and Sen. María José Pizarro.
Lawmakers who support legalization pushed for urgent Senate consideration of the bill in recent days, with the sponsor warning about the consequences of inaction before the 2023 session ends. They secured the debate, but members ultimately voted to table it.
Losada said opponents rallied around “misinformation” related to the president’s unrelated executive decree fully legalizing simple drug possession and were able to derail the marijuana reform.
The decree eliminates a $50 fine for possessing small amounts of drugs and removes the ability of police to seize them. That built on a broader decriminalization policy enacted under an earlier Constitutional Court ruling.
Even if the marijuana measure had cleared the Senate on Tuesday, the legislation would have needed to pass through both chambers again next year in order to be sent to the president’s desk for final approval.
Lawmakers nearly enacted an earlier version of the legalization measure earlier this year, but it also stalled out in the final stage in the Senate last session—making it so supporters had to restart the lengthy legislative process.
At a public hearing in the Senate panel last year, 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.”
After a recent visit to the U.S., the Colombian president recalled smelling the odor of marijuana wafting through the streets of New York City, remarking on the “enormous hypocrisy” of legal cannabis sales now taking place in the nation that launched the global drug war decades ago.
Petro also took a lead role at the Latin American and Caribbean Conference on Drugs in September, noting Colombia and Mexico “are the biggest victims of this policy,” likening the drug war to “a genocide.”
Last year, Petro 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.
He’s also 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.
Image element courtesy of Bryan Pocius.