Colombia’s Chamber of Representatives and Senate have voted to reconcile their respective versions of marijuana legalization bills that recently advanced, with both bodies accepting minor changes to create a unified final product that’s now set to advance to key votes in the new year.
Because the legalization proposal would amend the country’s Constitution, the legislation must pass both chambers again in 2023—and a key Senate sponsor of the bill says that she expect it to be formally enacted by June.
The reconciliation process took place about a week after the Senate overwhelmingly approved its version of the reform legislation. The bill had previously received initial approval in Colombia’s Chamber of Representatives.
The reconciliation passed the Chamber in a 103-39 vote, as Infobae reported.
#PlenariaSenado | | Ha sido APROBADA la conciliación del PAL 033 de 2022 Senado: “Por medio del cual se modifica el artículo 49 de la Constitución Política de Colombia, y se regulariza el #Cannabis de uso adulto”. pic.twitter.com/BQqDebLDcE
— Senado de la República (@SenadoGovCo) December 13, 2022
Lawmakers accepted the Chamber’s provision barring the possession and use of unregulated psychaocative substances without a medical prescription, for example. It also limits marijuana consumption and marketing near school zones and in public spaces.
#HoyEnCámara Aprobado #InformeConciliación Proyecto de Acto Legislativo N° 002 de 2022 Cámara – 033 de 2022 Senado “Por medio del cual se modifica el artículo 49 de la Constitución Política de Colombia, se regulariza el cannabis de uso adulto y se dictan otras disposiciones” pic.twitter.com/SphJ5AQjRM
— Cámara de Representantes de Colombia (@CamaraColombia) December 15, 2022
A section adopted from the Senate version deals with respecting the autonomy of indigenous communities and having the government issue a decree recognizing their right to regulate the plant and “guarantee interculturality as an essential element of the fundamental right to health,” according to a translation.
The last major change concerned the effective date of the law, with lawmakers accepting the Chamber’s version, which says that the law takes effect 12 months after implementation of the legislation.
En Conciliación en #PlenariaDeCámara se aprobaron los siguientes Actos Legislativos en su 1era vuelta y la Ley:
Cannabis de uso adulto
Campesinado como Sujetos de Derechos
Jurisdicción Agraria y Rural
Avanzamos hacia una Potencia Mundial de la Vida. pic.twitter.com/rHEMgUk734
— MinInterior Colombia (@MinInterior) December 15, 2022
“For the first time in history, Colombia is advancing at such a level in this discussion,” Sen. María José Pizarro Rodríguez, sponsor of the the Senate legalization bill, said, adding that supporters “hope that regularization will be a reality in June.”
Hoy fue aprobada la conciliación del acto legislativo de #CannabisDeUsoAdulto.
— María José Pizarro Rodríguez (@PizarroMariaJo) December 13, 2022
“We hope that in the second round this Project will be approved and will help the growth of the Colombian countryside and reduce the crime of drug trafficking in the country,” Rep. Saray Elena Robayo Bechara said.
Aprobado en primera vuelta el Acto Legislativo que regula el cannabis de uso adulto. Esperamos que en segunda vuelta este Proyecto sea aprobado y logre ayudar al crecimiento del campo colombiano y reducir el delito del narcotráfico en el país. @CamaraColombia pic.twitter.com/qzoxi0ICrK
— Saray Robayo Bechara (@sarayrobayobech) December 14, 2022
Lawmakers have met several times in recent weeks to debate the reform proposal, which would amend the country’s Constitution to end cannabis prohibition for adults.
At a public hearing in the Senate panel last month, 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.”
#Histórico | Celebramos la aprobación en primera vuelta del proyecto que busca legalizar el uso adulto del cannabis en . Este Congreso da un gran paso en la lucha antidrogas, con mayor prevención y recursos para los territorios. pic.twitter.com/8zftKqmW08
— CARLOS ARDILA (@CARLOSARDILA10) December 15, 2022
A supplementary legislative analysis provides background on the history of cannabis policy in Colombia, while also describing reform developments in other countries such as Mexico and the United States.
The legalization bill would support “the right of the free development of the personality, allowing citizens to decide on the consumption of cannabis in a regulated legal framework,” it says. And it would mitigate “arbitrary discriminatory or unequal treatment in front of the population that consumes.”
The bill will restrict possession and public consumption at schools and certain public spaces. It also calls for public education campaigns and the promotion of substance misuse treatment services.
The Colombian Chamber of Representatives gave initial approval to a legalization bill in October. In addition to Osuna, the head of the Interior Ministry also spoke in favor of the reform proposal at the time. That vote came shortly after a congressional committee advanced this measure and a separate legalization bill.
As a proposed constitutional amendment, the legislation needs to undergo eight debates in total, separated over two separate calendar years.
The justice minister also discussed legislative legalization efforts at an event focused on cannabis reform last month, emphasizing the need to enact a policy change the promotes economic growth and public health.
As lawmakers move to approve the reform bill, Osuna said that government agencies will be working to facilitate a “faster, less difficult” licensure process.
President Gustavo Petro, a progressive who has been strongly advocating for an international end to drug criminalization since being inaugurated in August, has discussed the possible benefits of cannabis legalization.
In September, the president 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.
Petro also recently 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.
He spoke about the economic potential of a legal cannabis industry, one where small towns in places like the Andes, Corinto and Miranda could stand to benefit from legal marijuana cultivation, possibly without any licensing requirements.
The president also signaled that he’d be interested in exploring the idea of exporting cannabis to other countries where the plant is legal.
U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), who chairs the House Rules Committee, cheered the official swearing in of Petro , saying that he looks forward to “working together to…rethink drug policy, and much more.”
President Joe Biden, on the other hand, seems intent on perpetuating the drug war in Colombia, with U.S. military support. He released a memorandum to the defense secretary in August that authorizes the “interdiction of aircraft reasonably suspected to be primarily engaged in illicit drug trafficking in that country’s airspace.”
He said that it’s “necessary because of the extraordinary threat posed by illicit drug trafficking to the national security of that country” and because “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.”
Petro also met with the president of Mexico last month, and the pair announced that they will be bringing together other Latin American leaders for an international conference focused on on “redesigning and rethinking drug policy” given the “failure” of prohibition. Mexican lawmakers are also pursuing national legalization.
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a joint appearance with Petro in October that the U.S. generally backs his “holistic approach” to drugs. The Colombian president, for his part, said that countries need to “view the war on drugs differently.”
As a former member of Colombia’s M-19 guerrilla group, Petro has seen the violent conflict between guerrilla fighters, narcoparamilitary groups and drug cartels that has been exacerbated by the government’s aggressive approach to drug enforcement.
According to the United Nations Office of Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Colombia remains a chief exporter of cocaine, despite “drug supply reduction activities in Colombia, such as eradication of coca bush and destruction of laboratories.”
In 2020, Colombian legislators introduced a bill that would have regulated coca, the plant that is processed to produce cocaine, in an acknowledgment that the government’s decades-long fight against the drug and its procedures have consistently failed. That legislation cleared a committee, but it was ultimately shelved by the overall conservative legislature.
Advocates are optimistic that such a proposal could advance under the Petro administration. The president hasn’t taken a clear stance on the legislation itself, but he campaigned on legalizing marijuana and promoted the idea of cannabis as an alternative to cocaine.
Former Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos has also been critical of the drug war and embraced reform. In an editorial published before he left office, he criticized the United Nations and U.S. President Richard Nixon for their role in setting a drug war standard that has proven ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst.
“It is time we talk about responsible government regulation, look for ways to cut off the drug mafias’ air supply, and tackle the problems of drug use with greater resources for prevention, care and harm reduction with regard to public health and the social fabric,” he said.
“This reflection must be global in scope in order to be effective,” Santos, who is a member of the pro-reform Global Commission on Drug Policy, said. “It must also be broad, including participation not only of governments but also of academia and civil society. It must reach beyond law enforcement and judicial authorities and involve experts in public health, economists and educators, among other disciplines.”
Meanwhile, a U.S. congressional delegation returned from a visit to Colombia in October, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who was part of the trip, told Marijuana Moment that one theme of his discussions with officials in the country was that the world has “lost the war on drugs.”
Image element courtesy of Bryan Pocius.