Colombian Lawmakers Introduce New Marijuana Legalization Bill One Month After Prior Version Stalled

Colombian lawmakers have reintroduced a bill to legalize marijuana nationwide for the upcoming legislative session.

Just one month after the previous version stalled out in the Senate at the final stage of an eight-step legislative process, Rep. Juan Carlos Losada and Sen. María José Pizarro announced on Monday that they’re trying again to enact the reform.

The legislation was previously approved in the both chambers last year as part of the two-year process that constitutional amendments must undergo. It then passed the Chamber of Deputies again in May and advanced through a Senate committee last month. But while it received a majority of the votes on the floor, it came up short of the 54-vote threshold it needs for passage.

Losada recently told CNN that he faults President Gustavo Petro’s administration for not doing more to advocate for the bill, but “we will come back to it.”

“We have a crucial month ahead of us to understand who we can count on and who can help us achieve our goal,” he said.

In a Twitter post last week, he added that reform supporters “continue the fight to advance in the change of the failed prohibitionist policy against drugs, to advance in a policy guided by the guidelines of public health, the prevention of consumption and the guarantee of consumer care.”

Neither Losada nor Pizarro mentioned any substantive changes to the bill compared to the last version. Losado did say, however, that the legislation was filed with 70 initial cosponsors signed on.

“Colombia has been the epicenter of the failed prohibitionist fight against drugs,” he said. “We have the legitimacy to promote a new approach where it is the State and its institutions that regulate the market and not illegality and mafias.”

At a public hearing in the Senate panel last year, Justice Minister Néstor Osuna similarly 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.”

The Chamber of Representatives gave initial approval to the legalization bill last year. 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.

Petro, a progressive who has been strongly advocating for an international end to drug criminalization since being inaugurated last year, has discussed the possible benefits of cannabis legalization.

Last year, 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 has also 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.

Petro met with the president of Mexico last year, 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.

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 had been 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 op-ed 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 last year, 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.”

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Image element courtesy of Bryan Pocius.

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