Elections are always a time for new things, as new entrants come with their own ideas, and push for their own measures. Such is the case in Colombia. After recent elections caused a changeover in government, it looks more and more like the new government and president of Colombia are in favor of legal marijuana.
Colombia has a new government, and it looks to have its sights on legal marijuana. We’re a news platform that specializes in cannabis and psychedelics reporting. Sign up for the Cannadelics Weekly Newsletter to access newsworthy updates, and for a range of deals on products like vapes, smoking equipment, and cannabinoid compounds including the ever-popular Delta 8 & HHC. Head to our ‘best of’ lists for more info, and make sure to only buy products you’re fully comfortable using.
Colombia held its elections back on the 22nd of May, with runoff elections taking place on June 19th, as no candidates could win 50% in the first vote. The standing president Ivan Duque was barred from running due to term limitations. The runoff election was close, with Gustavo Petro of the Colombia Humana party winning by a hair. He beat out competitor Rodolfo Hernández of the Independent party 50.42% to 47.35%.
Petro is the first left-wing candidate to make it to the presidency in Colombia, and his running mate, Francia Márquez, is now the first afro-Colombian vice-president, and the second female to have this office. On August 7th, 2022, Petro officially took office. Duque, who he replaced, was of the Democratic Centre Party, a center-right, and much more conservative, party.
The elections came about a year after large protests erupted in response to Duque’s government attempting to increase taxes, and for general corruption. The protests picked up speed April 28th, and tens of thousands of people took to the streets, creating bloody standoffs between civilians and police in big cities. As Duque made statements about revising the tax plan, the protests grew bigger, culminating on May 1st (Worker’s Day in Colombia), and leading Duque to actually withdraw the tax plan.
This didn’t end the protests, and they carried on partly from the police brutality itself. It was reported that by May 21st, over 2,000 instances of police brutality were reported, along with multiple accusations of sexual violence, and the disappearance of about 200 people. These riots continued on for several months. In light of this long-lasting and violent disruption, it’s not shocking that the new voted-in government is essentially politically the opposite.
New government of Colombia favors legal marijuana
New presidencies often bring about change, and this one is no different. How much is just talk, and how much follow-thru there will be, however, remains to be seen. Petro has held to a stance of ending the general war on drugs in the country. In a summit for mayors held on August 10th he began talking about how a legal cannabis market could work in Colombia. He has also made it clear that he wants to institute a policy to release prisoners who are already incarcerated for cannabis crimes.
Referencing places like many US states that have worked to release prisoners, he said “If we are going to legalize cannabis, are we going to keep all those people imprisoned in overcrowded prisons, or has the time come to release many people from prisons simply because they were criminalized for something that is legal in much of the United States.”
Part of the push relates to how it can help the economy, particularly in small towns. He made it sound like this could be done without instituting licensing requirements. He brought up opening an export market, as well, to work with countries legally able to import cannabis. He said, “We’ll see if [cannabis can be] exported and we’ll earn a few dollars because half of humanity [has legalized it].”
Petro on ending the war on drugs
Petro isn’t just looking to make Colombia a legal marijuana country, he also wants a new approach to how drugs are treated in general, in the country, and beyond. In his inaugural address last week upon taking office, Petro spoke about bringing the war on drugs to an end, citing the need for understanding on an international scale that drug criminalization isn’t a working method.
Of this, he said, “Of course, peace is possible if you change, for example, the politics against drugs, for example, seen as a war, for a policy of strong prevention of consumption in developed societies… It is time for a new international convention that accepts that the drug war has failed, which has left a million murdered Latin Americans during these 40 years and that leaves 70,000 Americans dead from drug overdoses each year. The war on drugs strengthened the mafias and weakened the states.”
He continued, “The war on drugs has led states to commit crimes and has evaporated the horizon of democracy. Are we going to expect that another million Latin Americans will be murdered and that the number of deaths from overdoses in the United States will rise to 200,000 every year? Or rather, will we exchange failure for a success that allows Colombia and Latin America to live in peace?”
What was the US reaction to Colombia’s new president trying to find a way around old bad habits that have only resulted in death and destruction? The same day Petro spoke to the summit of mayors, Biden released a memorandum to the defense secretary, which authorized “interdiction of aircraft reasonably suspected to be primarily engaged in illicit drug trafficking in that country’s airspace”, referring to Colombia.
His reasoning? That it’s “necessary because of the extraordinary threat posed by illicit drug trafficking to the national security of that country.” He added on that “Colombia has appropriate procedures in place to protect against innocent loss of life in the air and on the ground in connection with such interdiction, which includes effective means to identify and warn an aircraft before the use of force is directed against the aircraft.” Is he trying to say that Colombia is responsible for all Colombian deaths caused by the US military, because Colombia should just know how to deal with it? Kind of sounds like it… Which is a gross statement no matter how you look at it, as it attempts to relinquish guilt by the US military for the unnecessary killing of innocent Colombian people.
What about the bill and the ruling?
If you follow the news, you know that there have been a couple other happenings related to cannabis legalization in Colombia. First off, there is a bill currently circulating in Colombia’s congress. Sen. Gustavo Bolívar introduced legislation in July to establish a recreational adult-use market in the country. This is similar to an initiative he tried to pass two years ago, which failed. He hopes that now with a more liberal government, the bill has a better shot of going through. As a result of the election, the Colombia Humana party holds the most seats in congress, making the bill that much more likely to pass.
The thing is, three years ago, the Constitutional Court of Colombia made a ruling that knocked down a ban on the public consumption of cannabis. Unlike in other countries where constitutional court rulings have been upheld, and led to subsequent legalization measures, this doesn’t seem to be the case in Colombia. The reason for the case was to combat an overreaching police code, and even pro-legalization officials like Bolívar were not shocked that it was never adopted directly. Even so, it does exist.
In 2019, the Constitutional Court overruled parts of a police ban put in place by former President Duque in 2017, which expressly banned public cannabis consumption, and which the court said was in violation of the rights of citizens. According to the court, the police code violated a 1994 decriminalization (and subsequent 2012 ruling) that allows small amounts of drugs for personal use (up to 20 grams). The police code implemented the ability of law enforcement to search for and confiscate drugs meant for this purpose.
At the time, the court said, “A law can not create general restrictions on freedom; it must be specific regarding time, place and circumstance and subject to reasonableness and proportionality.”
Then-president Duque’s response? To say that though he does accept it and respect it, that it doesn’t really matter, citing the violation of children’s rights as the reason. He stated “The free determination of personality is not above the free determination of drug addiction”.. and that police could keep right on confiscating drugs and imposing penalties on those possessing drugs, even if in personal use quantities. As it stands now, cops are able to search and take drugs, however, no criminal charges apply if under 20 grams.
This is a great example of a constitutional court not working to uphold its ruling, and a government not being respectful of a court ruling. Whether it was an oversight or not, the ruling did establish the ban on public use as unconstitutional. I wonder if this might be revisited in the future in light of the new president and new administration. For now, Colombia maintains cannabis as illegal for recreational use, with a sometimes up-held personal use measure of up to 20 grams. It does, however, seem that change is on the way.
The new government in Colombia is already much more supportive of legal marijuana than the last government. When exactly it will happen, or how, has not been made clear, but with a new bill circulating, a left-leaning government, and a new president who is pro-legalization in office, it certainly looks like Colombia will join the ranks of the legalized, soon enough.
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