The Path To Cannabis Regulation In Colombia


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The Path To Cannabis Regulation In Colombia

In 1994, Colombia decriminalized the personal use and self-cultivation of several cannabis varieties, although production, distribution, and commercialization remain penalized by law. However, recent developments indicate that the country may be on the verge of changing its approach to cannabis regulation.

Colombia has long been entrenched in a war on drugs, with a significant focus on battling the cannabis market. According to official data, cannabis constituted more than 50% of all seized illicit drugs in the country in 2020. Surprisingly, a substantial portion of these seizures consisted of quantities that fell below the legally permitted amount for personal possession. This situation has prompted discussions around the need for cannabis regulation.

In 2009, President Uribe’s government added an article to the Colombian constitution that prohibited the possession of psychoactive substances. While it did not affect the right to consume cannabis, it effectively stifled the development of a regulated domestic cannabis market. Numerous attempts to amend this article in the past have been unsuccessful. However, there is renewed hope as Congress gears up to make history by potentially amending the article this week.

Amending the Colombian constitution is a rigorous process that requires passing eight debates, divided equally between the House of Representatives and the Senate. For the first time in history, a legislative effort to amend the constitution has reached the final round of debates. Although the supporters of the reform fell short of the required number of votes in the last ballot, there is still a chance to secure the necessary votes before June 20. If successful, it would mark the beginning of the path towards the regulation of cannabis in Colombia.

The Benefits of Cannabis Regulation in Colombia

The ongoing debate about cannabis regulation in Colombia revolves around two primary areas where regulation could bring significant benefits.

1. Consumption and Public Health Impact

Scientific evidence suggests that the decriminalization and regulation of adult cannabis use have no significant impact on the age of first use—an essential factor in preventing problematic use. In fact, in 75% of the studies conducted thus far, regulation of adult cannabis use has either stabilized consumption or led to reduced consumption among young people. Furthermore, evidence shows that regulating adult cannabis use has also resulted in a decrease in alcohol consumption among individuals aged 15 to 24 and a reduction in mortality associated with opioid use.

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2. Crime Reduction

Regulating adult cannabis use has also been shown to have positive effects on crime rates. Research conducted in states like Washington and Colorado, where cannabis is legally regulated, suggests a reduction in crimes such as rape, theft, and non-violent offenses associated with alcohol and other substances.

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While some argue that cannabis regulation may not directly impact violence reduction, it is crucial to consider the potential for reducing violence in cannabis-producing regions such as Cauca. Additionally, cannabis regulation could lead to a more efficient allocation of police and judicial resources, contributing to an overall reduction in crime and an improved relationship between law enforcement and citizens in the country.

It is important to note that the aim of the proposed reform is not to eliminate all risks associated with cannabis use. Like other regulated substances such as alcohol, cannabis use does carry risks. The emphasis of the discussion is on implementing appropriate regulatory changes to manage these risks effectively, as has been achieved with other substances. This approach would allow for the implementation of public health measures and harm reduction strategies.

Colombia can draw valuable lessons from countries that have already taken the bold step of cannabis regulation, including the United States, Canada, and Uruguay. By studying the models and approaches adopted by these countries, Colombia can navigate the challenges and ensure a successful implementation of its own regulatory framework.

Designing a regulated market for cannabis in Colombia will require careful consideration of the details within the regulatory framework. The transition to a regulated system will also need to accommodate the actors currently operating in the cannabis economy, allowing them to adapt progressively to the new regulations.

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