On November 25, the Constitutional Commission of the Colombian Senate voted for a law (Proyecto de Ley 189 de 2020 or PL 189-20) that would legalize cannabis use in Colombia. Next, the measure will be presented to the entire Senate and, if approved, forwarded to the House of Representatives for review.
The bill “proposes the creation of a Colombian Institute for the Regulation of Cannabis, responsible for regulating the entire process of recreational cannabis from cultivation to distribution and consumption.” While it would ultimately be up to the regulator to determine whether cannabis imports are allowed, the proposed legal language allows for that possibility. In particular, Article 22 (3) provides that the packaging of imported products must contain the country of origin and the term importado para Colombia.
According to the provisions of PL 189-20, the advertising of cannabis products would be severely restricted. It would also require the imposition of a tax on cannabis, but “in a manner that does not create incentives for consumers to turn to the black market” (Article 27).
Much of the impetus for the bill comes from a desire to deprive criminal organizations of the benefits of the cannabis industry. According to the author of PL 189-20, Senator Gustavo Bolívar, drug trafficking was “transversal for all [Colombia’s] Violence in the last 30 or 40 years “and the proceeds” were used to finance guerrilla groups, paramilitaries [and] the BACRIM. “
One of the sponsors of the measure, Senator Luis Fernando Velasco, cited the experience of the United States in support. “As they regulated consumption and generated tax revenue in the United States,” he said, “we are sending the authorities here to fight the farmers. People will continue to use cannabis, and with regularization we will end the mafias.” This analysis ignores the fact that cannabis is still planned as a drug at the federal level and is illegal in many states, yet it suggests that el vecino del norte may increasingly serve as a model for proponents of cannabis legalization in Latin America.
PL 189-20 reflects some of the concerns of lawmakers in the United States and puts emphasis on social justice considerations. The law requires that 35% of cannabis licenses must be issued to smallholders who fall under at least two of the categories listed in Article 36, including ethnic minorities, female heads of household and victims of armed conflict. Following the invitation of the 2018 Farm Bill to Indian tribes to submit hemp plans, PL 189-20 provides that indigenous communities must have “regulatory capacity and autonomy with regard to [cannabis] Cultivation, production, storage, conversion, marketing and use. “
Just a few weeks ago, on November 3rd, the House rejected a similar proposal that we saw in Cannabis is Coming! The latest on Colombia and Mexico. However, it is assumed that the current invoice has a better chance of being approved. As El País explains, the defeated measure was aimed at changing the Colombian constitution, while PL 189-20 was only aimed at creating a legal framework for cannabis. Their sponsors “argue that there is no absolute ban on the recreational use of drugs, particularly marijuana, in Colombia, and therefore this debate can take place through the discussion of a law” without requiring a constitutional amendment.
We’re going to have Colombian Steve Kornacki find out if cannabis advocates in the house have a chance to turn the tide after the defeat of the previous bill between 102 and 52. Regardless of how things go, it is encouraging to see relentless legalization efforts by Colombian lawmakers. Public opinion on cannabis is moving fast, and proponents of legalization should be ready to benefit from a favorable tide. In addition, the legislative debate provides an unbeatable platform to allay cannabis concerns and highlight the opportunities that may arise for a Colombian economy in dire need of help.