President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia signed in late 2015, a decree that will legalize and regulate medical marijuana. This action is however a shift away from the country’s policy of preventing production of drug crops. In doing this, the president said it puts Colombia in the midst of countries that are leading in exploiting natural resource for disease interventions. The medical world uses marijuana to reign over ailments like Crohn’s disease, HIV symptoms, nausea and seizures.
While announcing the decree in an address televised nationally, President Santos said that growing, processing, importing and exporting cannabis and its derivatives would now be legal as long as the said products serve scientific or medical use. Responsible state agencies such as the health ministry as such, will grant licenses for cannabis seeds and plants.
Though marijuana production mainly falls in the legally grey area, President Santos says the government will remain steadfast in the fight against illegal drug production. This action is not entirely strange; Colombia passed a law in 1986 that allow manufacture, export and sale of marijuana for medicinal and scientific purposes. Until this decree however, no formal regulation was really in place.
Essentially, this law now demands that anyone who wishes to grow marijuana must seek a license from the National Narcotics Council.
Though plagued by effects of decades-long drug trade and ensuing related violence, Colombia now joins a league of Latin American countries that have laws and policies decriminalizing and or legalizing use of marijuana. Residents of these countries and US states such as Colorado, Washington and Oregon can now easily access cannabis for medicinal use. Uruguay in fact, is several steps ahead with functional laws that fully legalize production, sale and even recreational use.
President Santos highlighted that this action does not stand in the way of Colombia’s commitment to drug control. The country is a close collaborator of the US in the fight against drug trafficking. It is the world’s leading cocaine producer followed closely by another South American counterpart, Peru, and, both the US and Colombia believe that the financial might of the former and the latter’s military power will help the South American coke powerhouse shed this title.
Colombia also plans to offer incentives to help with the fight against drug crop production. For instance, coca growers who cease production will get land from the government. Under the decree, entrepreneurs who seek to manufacture drugs using marijuana will get permits from the ministry of health. The same government agency will be responsible for granting permits to traders who want to export the drug and its derivatives to countries where marijuana use is legal.
The decree seems to emanate from Colombia’s quest to increase public access to locally made drugs that are also safe and of high quality. Legalizing marijuana as such provides an opportunity for the country to promote scientific research. The push to make marijuana use legal seems to engulf the entire South America; Chile’s congress is deliberating on making it legal. Even Mexico, which has prohibitionist marijuana laws, is initiating a national debate early 2016 that will overhaul these.
Colombia decriminalized marijuana possession in 2012 as long as it is less than 20 grams. It also is legal to grow up to 20 plants of cannabis though consumption in public remains illegal. Medical marijuana is however, already available, albeit on a small scale. Pharmaceutical companies and health professionals condemn this new decree saying that it will make the process of buying, selling and manufacturing drugs a lot easier.
If such a situation is true, then Colombia is diving into a sad situation considering that illegal drugs fuel horrific violence in the country. Over the past five decades, more than 220,000 have lost their lives because of conflicts between the government forces and leftist guerrillas.