“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” Positives in Colombia’s cannabis debate

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“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” Positives in Colombia’s cannabis debate

31 July 2023
Talking Drugs
Maria Alejandra Vélez

This month, Colombia finished eight rounds of intense debating to decide whether cannabis should be legalised through constitutional reform. The measure almost narrowly passed, failing to get enough votes to be approved. Maria Alejandra Vélez, the Director of CESED, the Centre of Studies of Security and Drugs, took TalkingDrugs through a post-mortem analysis of the cannabis legalisation debates.

Colombia is a conservative country in many fronts. However, our legislation in quite some dimensions has been progressive thanks to the Constitution of 1991 that includes the right to free development of the personality. Based on that principle, in 1994 the Constitutional Court ratified the decriminalisation of the personal use and self-cultivation of cannabis, although production, distribution and commercialization remain penalized by law.

Colombian laws are also set up in a confusing way. In 2009, President Uribe’s government reformed article 49 of the Colombian constitution covering health rights by including the prohibition of the possession of psychoactive substances. Although this article did not affect the right to consume, according to the Constitutional Court’s interpretation, it has prevented the development of a regulated domestic market for cannabis. You can consume it but not buy it – that is the current status quo.

Several legislative efforts in the past have tried unsuccessfully to amend this incoherence. Last week, Colombians were very close to change this path when an initiative led by Liberal Congressmen Losada almost got the required votes to change article 49. Modifying the Colombian Constitution is not an easy process. It needs to pass eight debates: four in the House of Representatives and four in the Senate in one year. For the first time in history, this legislative effort made it through to the final debate. However, promoters of the reform fell short of the number of votes needed, obtaining 47 out of the 54 required for approval in the last debate. The votes in favour of the reform were greater than those against (a total of 43) but was still not enough to pass.