Colombia begins dismantling the drug war with marijuana legislation

On Tuesday December 22nd, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a bill to legalise medical marijuana. The legislation allows the cultivation and sale of marijuana for medical purposes; members of the public may grow their own marijuana if they acquire a license from the National Narcotics Council.

Marijuana can be effectively used to treat a range of ailments, including Crohn’s disease, nausea, chronic pain, and multiple sclerosis. Although the importance of marijuana as medicine has gained a wide consensus among medical professionals, it remains illegal in most countries.

Colombia, which has endured some of the most harrowing consequences of the War on Drugs, is taking a major progressive step by legalising an aspect of the illicit drug trade. The nation was at the heart of the drug war during the 1980s and 1990s, as it was used as a production and transport hub for Pablo Escobar’s $100billion cocaine trafficking group, the Medellin Cartel. By legalising and regulating part of the marijuana trade, the Colombian government is removing revenue from cartels and gangs without having to engage in violence.

“We have just taken an important step to place Colombia in the vanguard of the fight against disease and we’re doing it via a decree that seeks to take advantage of the benefits of cannabis to improve people’s lives,” President Santos declared.

“The manufacture, export, sale, and medical and scientific use of this and other substances have been permitted for several decades in Colombia. However, they were never regulated. That is what we are doing today.”

“Our goal is for patients to be able to access medications made in Colombia that are safe, high-quality and accessible. It is also an opportunity to promote scientific research in our country.”

Colombia joins several of its neighbouring Latin American nations as it alters its approach to marijuana prohibition. Uruguay legalised marijuana in 2013, a bill decriminalising marijuana in Chile has passed the nation’s lower house and is awaiting Senate approval, while the Mexican Supreme Court recently ruled that – in very specific circumstances – access to marijuana should be considered a fundamental human right.

A special session at the United Nations in April 2016 will consider alternatives to the international War on Drugs, and access to medical marijuana will undoubtedly be a central issue.

Photo credit: Darrin Harris Frisby/Drug Policy Alliance

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