Colombian Senate Shelves Marijuana Legalization Bill In Another Major Setback For Advocates

December 13, 2023 ·

Colombia’s Senate has shelved a bill to legalize marijuana, meaning lawmakers will need to restart the two-year legislative process over again next year if they hope to enact the reform.

With 45 votes, the Senate opted to delay consideration of the proposal on Tuesday during its fourth of eight required debates to adopt the constitutional amendment.

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 later this week. But while they secured the debate, the vote didn’t go as planned.

Rep. Juan Carlos Losada, who is championing legalization in the Chamber of Representatives, blamed the defeat on “misinformation” from opponents, including members of his own party, that concerned a separate administrative decree to fully legalize simple drug possession.

He said that opponents misleadingly leveraged President Gustavo Petro’s recent executive decree that eliminates the $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.

It was unrelated to the marijuana legalization effort, but opponents used to to raise questions about the necessity of moving ahead with the cannabis-focused reform.

“The project that sought to regulate cannabis for adult use has just collapsed in the Senate plenary session,” he said in a social media post on Tuesday, according to a translation. “The misinformation generated by the repeal of Decree 1844 of 2018 a few days before this debate and the maneuvers orchestrated by certain congressmen, unfortunately among them some from my own party, led to the initiative being shelved.”

“We will continue fighting for a change in drug policy, convinced that it is the only way to end the war and to truly prevent problematic consumption and the impact on the most vulnerable populations,” he said. “We will insist until misinformation and maneuvers are no longer the protagonists of this debate.”

“The prohibitionist policy against drugs has plunged Colombia into a senseless war,” Losada added.

Sen. María José Pizarro, who is carrying the cannabis bill in her chamber, wrote in an op-ed published by El Tiempo on Monday that prohibition is an “erroneous approach that has meant the waste of public resources, higher prices, criminalization of the weakest links, overcrowding, and that has prevented the crises caused by other substances from being truly addressed.”

“Maintaining the prohibition of trade is exposing people who consume to mafias and to side effects from consuming poor quality products, among others,” she said. “At the same time, it encourages the spread of illegal actors and prevents the possibility of collecting taxes from a profitable business whose projections show that it will become even more so in the future.”

The senator accused opponents who orchestrated the cannabis bill’s defeat on Tuesday of “pure cynicism” in a social media post.

“They say they defend the family, youth and children, but they prefer to leave the business to the…drug traffickers who have control of the parks, the territories and the state, even against the Constitution,” she said. “The real people responsible for handing over youth to violent mafias are those who voted to shelve the project to regulate the commercialization of ADULT USE cannabis WITHOUT A SINGLE ARGUMENT.”

The Chamber of Representatives had already approved the bill earlier this year before it was sent over to the Senate. Even if it 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. (Full Story)

In categories:International Legalization
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