Colombia Shelves Congressional Bill on Cannabis Legalization

Colombia Shelves Congressional Bill on Cannabis Legalization

A second legalization bill remains on the table, however.

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November 10, 2020

Colombia’s legislature shelved a congressional initiative that sought to legalize consumption of cannabis for recreational purposes among adults.

The plenary of the Lower House sank the bill with an ample difference of 102-52 votes, shelving a bill that sought to modify the Article 49 of the Colombian Constitution which states, "the carrying and consumption of narcotic or psychotropic substances is prohibited unless prescribed by a doctor."

The bill aimed to allow the recreational consumption of cannabis among adults, allowing consumers to acquire cannabis at regulated stores and lifting a ban that today forces consumers to go to illegal outlets.

But the bill, which required eight congressional debates to become a law—four at the Lower House and four at the Senate—was expected to encounter heated opposition among right-wing fractions that support Colombian President Ivan Duque, according to Jota Nicolas Vergara, adviser to lawmaker Juan Carlos Lozada, who led the initiative.

“We knew that passing this debate in the Lower House was going to be very complex because the majority of  pro-government congressman have very radical positions. They see the approval of recreational cannabis as counterproductive because it encourages young people and children to consume cannabis in more accessible ways,” Vergara told Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary.

Lower House representative Cesar Lourdy, who supported the initiative, said the prohibition to cannabis consumption runs counter to the rights of individuals.

“It is not the responsibility of the state or the society, but of the people themselves, to decide the way they develop their rights. Congress has limits on the margin of legislative freedom, and this is nothing more than the superior values of the legal system, constitutional principles and fundamental rights. Therefore, it is not welcome the prohibition that impact the free development of the personality,” Lourdy said.

The prohibition to legalization on the contrary encourages the drug trafficking business for drug cartels as they continue to have the control on the business, Lourdy noted. The potential legalization would have allowed the state to take control of  production and commercialization.

But there is another congressional bill that seeks to create a legal framework for production, commercialization and consumption for recreational purposes among adults. This bill also prohibits cannabis access to underage users, bans advertising or promotion of cannabis and establishes regulated sites for adult consumption. That bill, led by senators Luis Fernando Velazco and Gustavo Bolivar, is expected to receive its first debate by mid-November, according to Gloria Miranda, adviser to Bolivar. That bill must be fully approved by the end of next year to become a law.

“Unlike the previous bill, this initiative will create a legal framework to regulate cannabis from production by regulating the licenses to produce marijuana to sales by ruling whether cannabis can be sold at coffee shops or at sales online,” Miranda said. The first debate is expected to be approved in the Senate’s commission before the end of November as they have secured ample approval among lawmakers.

This bill will only require four debates in congress as it will not amend the Constitution. It seeks to take advantage of previous rulings from the Constitutional Court, which lessened the scope of Article 49 of the Constitution.

In 1986, the Constitutional Court allowed Colombians to carry a small dose of 20 grams of cannabis in what is called the personal dose. Then the Supreme Court of Justice asserted that people have the right to carry the minimum dose and to stock up on that amount. Later, President Duque, with his Decree 1844, tried to prohibit the carrying and consumption of the minimum dose, but the Constitutional Court said the move was unconstitutional last year.

Senator Velazco endorses the legalization of marijuana consumption claiming that in Uruguay  the government took up to 40% of the marijuana business from cartels, noting that the illegal market stopped receiving around 20 million euros in recent years.

This South American country also recorded investments of 100 million euros in the legal cannabis sector by 2018, and the creation of 500 jobs, according to Velazco’s bill.

Pro-government lawmaker Oscar Dario Perez said that Colombia’s biggest headache has been the war against drug cartels, and with the legalization of cannabis the state would have be promoting the free reign of consumption of illicit drugs.

“If we do allow the legalization of marijuana, we will be opening doors that we will be impossible to close it later. An eventual legalization would cause an increase in consumption, especially by underage users,” he said.

Lawmakers in favor of legalization argue that official figures show that prohibiting cannabis consumption has not prevented consumers from not having access to this substance.

A survey carried out by the country’s statistics department in 2019 found that 8% of people aged between 12 to 65 reported having consumed marijuana at some time in their lives. A smaller percentage, 2.68% of people in that age group, said they had consumed marijuana in the past 12 months. Other findings showed that of the different illegal psychoactive substances, the earliest consumption is that of marijuana with 18.1 years on average.