Colombia’s congress preparing bill to legalize marijuana

(Image: National Police)

Lawmakers from a wide range of parties have begun working on new legislation that would legalize the production and consumption of marijuana for recreational purposes.

The new policy would undo the government’s hard-line drug policy that allowed police last year to confiscate weed and force people who are caught smoking pot to take part in sessions dissuading anti-social behavior.

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The administration of President Ivan Duque would like to see marijuana banned altogether, but this would go against the Constitution, which considers drug use a health issue and prohibits criminalization.

The initiative to legalize weed is led by opposition Senator Gustavo Bolivar (Humane Colombia) and would be co-authored by the opposition, the Liberal Party and lawmakers from center-right parties like Radical Change and the U Party.

The 12 lawmakers working on the legislation plan to present the bill on July 20, the first day after summer recess.

According to the congressman, the “war on drugs” initiated by late US President Richard Nixon and the repressive measures to curb drug consumption adopted in Colombia has cost the country tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of lives – and have evidently failed.

The lawmakers specified that between 2000 and 2015, the state has spent $140 million on battling illicit crops – but the cultivation of coca has increased from 134,000 hectares in 2010 to at least 206,000 hectares last year.

In the same period, the criminalization of drugs and the repressive policies to combat them have cost the lives of 25,000 civilians and almost 7,000 members of the security forces, the collective told newspaper El Espectador.

The policy resembles proposals by former President Juan Manuel Santos, who has been urging alternative approaches to the US-led war on drugs since 2011.

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The politicians – ambitiously – seek to overhaul Duque’s entire drug policy. Instead of trying to recriminalize the use of drugs, the lawmakers want to strengthen the country’s public health legislation to combat drug use, a policy similar to the one in place in countries like Portugal and parts of the United States.

Furthermore, the lawmakers believe that their pending policy proposal may reduce coca cultivation, by allowing farmers to grow marijuana, a drug with considerably less harmful effects on consumers that has lost the interest of drug traffickers after US states began producing their own weed.

The pending bill is bound to run into fierce opposition from the conservative government, which on multiple occasions has promoted prohibitionist policies, but lacks a majority of Congress and has failed to produce any results in trying to reduce either drug trafficking or drug consumption.

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