Colombia’s President Ivan Duque signed off on a law that allows mayors to determine where alcohol and drugs may or may not be consumed.
The police code introduced by Duque’s predecessor, former President Juan Manuel Santos, banned the use of alcohol and drugs in public, but this was struck down by the Constitutional Court.
In Colombia, the consumption of alcohol and drugs is a constitutional right.
The ruling crippled a decree issued by Duque that allowed police to fine people for consuming alcohol or drugs in public and confiscating small amounts of drugs that are legal to carry.
Police have been widely accused of abusing Duque’s decrees to extort people and steal their drugs.
While citizens and law experts challenged Duque’s repressive drug policy, Congress began drafting legislation that sought a more “intelligent” drug policy.
The “intelligent” approach
One of the bills sought to replace Duque’s blanket ban by a law that allowed mayors to define specific areas, for example near schools or in public parks, where police may impose bans on the use of alcohol or drugs.
This bill was sponsored by Senator Rodrigo Lara and House Representative Erwin Arias of Radical Change and approved by Congress where the president has no majority support.
Other initiatives include regulating the production and consumption of marijuana similar to the way this is done in parts of the United States and Europe.
This initiative is allegedly supported by Santos who — despite having retired from politics — has been an outspoken critic of the war on drugs.
Is Colombia ending the war on drugs?
With the exception of members of Duque’s far-right Democratic Center party, senators from the left to the center-right have been drafting legislation that effectively would end the war on drugs in Colombia.
According to the proponents of the bills, the war on drugs promoted by the United States since the 1970s has failed.
To pursue a long-term solution to drug trafficking, and that of cocaine in particular, an urgent and comprehensive policy reform in Colombia is needed, the lawmakers have argued.
One of the bills in Congress seeks a full ban on glyphosate, a chemical widely believed to be carcinogenic, but proposed by Duque and the US government to be used in the aerial fumigation of coca.
Instead, the lawmakers want the government to follow the recommendations of the United Nations’ Office on Drugs (UNODC) and Crime by reducing the production of coca through crop substitution and rural development that would allow farmers access to the legal economy.
Another bill wants to make a legal distinction between small farmers who grow coca and large coca plantations that are often run by organized crime organizations.
This bill that would shield small farmers from criminal prosecution was part of the peace process, but never made it through congress.
If approved, the bills would make Duque’s drug policy illegal and force him to execute the drug policy recommended by the UNODC and execute the crop substitution and rural development programs that have been all but abandoned by the government.