Colombia Falls 7 Votes Short of Legalizing Recreational Cannabis, What Went Wrong?

June 25, 2023 ·

Last Tuesday, Colombia’s Senate dealt a blow to decriminalizing recreational cannabis by rejecting a bill. The constitutional reform proposal fell short of 54 votes, receiving 43 against and 47 in favor. This decision was made just an hour before the conclusion of the current legislative session.

Despite facing a setback, Senator Juan Carlos Losada of the Liberal Party remained optimistic and refrained from considering it a defeat. He highlighted the significant progress achieved by bringing such a contentious issue to public discourse over the past four years. Losada’s perspective reflects a positive outlook, acknowledging the impact made through sustained efforts to generate discussions on the matter.

Losada emphasized the negative consequences of allowing drug traffickers and dealers to control an illegal substance. He stated that leaving this substance in the hands of criminals harms Colombia’s children and undermines the country’s democracy.

Losada also expressed his intention to reintroduce the bill during the upcoming legislative session, highlighting a persistent commitment to advocating for its approval.

Despite the earlier endorsement of the measure by the Senate First Committee, which voted 15-4 in favor, approaching the required number of votes for the proposed constitutional amendment to advance to the president, the Senate ultimately rejected it. This outcome contrasts with the previous support garnered in committee discussions, adding to the complexities surrounding the bill’s progress.

This turn of events surprised industry experts who had anticipated Colombia’s imminent legalization of recreational cannabis as the Senate floor reached a different conclusion on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Colombia has permitted the use of medical marijuana since 2016, marking a significant step forward. Additionally, individuals have been allowed to carry up to 20 grams of cannabis and cultivate up to 20 plants for personal use since 1986. Nevertheless, lawmakers such as Losada advocated for more comprehensive reforms, seeking broader changes in the legislation surrounding cannabis.

The Proposed Measure

The proposed measure aimed at affirming the right to the free development of personality. This will grant citizens the autonomy to make decisions about cannabis consumption within a regulated legal framework, as outlined in the proposal.

Additionally, the bill intended to address any unfair treatment or discrimination faced by cannabis consumers. It also sought to establish treatment centers for individuals dealing with substance use disorders and implement public education campaigns to promote awareness and understanding.

Hence, the legislation’s primary goal was to revoke the prohibition of marijuana while deferring the establishment of an immediate regulatory sales framework. However, it would have empowered the government to formulate future retail and taxation rules.

The proposed amendment would have also mandated the federal government to develop a comprehensive policy to prevent cannabis use. This would have included implementing a nationwide education campaign within six months.

Furthermore, the government would have been obligated to devise a plan for preventing and treating any health issues resulting from chronic cannabis use. It’s important to note that the legislation would have prohibited cannabis use in public places, schools, and universities.

Supporters Are Not Giving Up.

The bill experienced a series of significant developments in its legislative journey. The bill achieved an important milestone on May 9 when it obtained approval from the Colombian Chamber of Representatives, the lower house of Congress, with a vote of 98-57. A positive outcome on June 6 followed this, as a Senate committee advanced the bill with a vote of 15-4, bringing it closer to the pivotal Senate vote that precedes its submission to President Gustavo Petro for consideration.

The bill’s proponents initially aimed to pass the legislation on June 16. However, Senate President Alexander Lopez adjourned the session due to a dispute between two senators from the Green Alliance party. The session held on Tuesday, which ultimately led to the bill’s rejection, became contentious as supporters of the bill left the chamber upon realizing they needed help to secure the necessary 54 votes for its approval.

Despite facing a setback, lawmakers who championed the bill, including its primary sponsor Juan Carlos Losada and President Petro, remained resolute in their commitment to regulate the sale of recreational marijuana. They expressed their determination to continue their efforts despite the current challenges.

Cannabis Legalization in Columbia.

In 2016, Colombia took a significant step by legalizing medical marijuana, followed by industrial hemp legalization in 2021. Moreover, legislation implemented in the 1980s and 1990s permitted the consumption and possession of up to 20 grams of cannabis and the cultivation of up to 20 plants.

However, previous administrations adopted a prohibitionist approach in their fight against drug trafficking. The explicit prohibition of drug sales was introduced in Article 49 of the Constitution during the presidency of Álvaro Uribe in 2009.

As a result, legalizing the sale of marijuana now requires a constitutional amendment and eight debates in Congress, instead of the usual four, due to these stricter regulations. In recent years, the Colombian Congress has considered several cannabis legalization initiatives. However, this latest plenary vote signifies the first successful passage of such a proposal.

Following his triumph in 2022, President Gustavo Petro made a clear commitment to prioritize ending the drug war during his administration. He emphasized the crucial need to acknowledge the unequivocal failure of the war on drugs.

Legalizing recreational marijuana sales in Colombia would have marked a remarkable achievement, making it the second country in Latin America, following Uruguay, to take this progressive step. Such a development would have carried significant significance and impact.


The recent rejection of the bill to decriminalize the sale of recreational cannabis in Colombia highlights the ongoing debate surrounding drug policy and legislation. While the setback is disappointing for supporters of the bill, it has sparked important discussions and brought attention to the need for comprehensive reforms.

The efforts of lawmakers like Senator Juan Carlos Losada have played a significant role in raising awareness and advancing the discourse on cannabis legalization. Despite the current outcome, the determination of advocates and the evolving societal attitudes suggest that the path toward broader reforms in Colombia’s drug policy may continue. (Full Story)

In categories:International Legalization
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