Something is wrong in paradise.
On the first of October, Colombia’s new President Ivan Duque signed a law that overturned decades of precedent and reversed the country’s trend towards cannabis acceptance by outlawing personal possessions of all drugs including cannabis. While there were riots and smoke outs in the streets following the news, the real confusion is among the blossoming legal cannabis industry in the county. Just months ago, Colombia announced to the world that they were going to supply the world with medical cannabis, and indeed few countries have the established growing regions, quality plants and massive quantity to do so.
Two weeks after the new law passed, I attended the first annual cannabis expo in Bogota, the country’s cosmopolitan mile-high capital. While the expo was full of enthusiasm for the country’s booming scene and future potential—I saw everything from plans to produce industrial hemp to turning hot growing regions into cannabis tourism destinations—nobody was quite sure what the new president’s intentions are with the industry. When asked, the smiles all froze in place and shrugs ensued.
To get a straight answer, PRØHBTD checked in with rapper/model/human rights attorney Mais MC, a prominent figure in the activist scene in Bogota, to analyze what’s going on with Colombia’s cannabis crackdown.
What is this new decree just signed into law by your new president? And how is it changing the cannabis movement in Colombia?
We have had this law 30 in effect since 1986, passed by Carlos Emilio Gaviria Díaz, that basically decriminalizes and allows possession of personal amounts of illicit substances as a human right, as free development of the individual. For cannabis, this meant that 20 grams and 20 plants were allowed for personal possession, as the right of an individual to make free choices for themselves. This new law erases all that, and gives the police the authority to seize personal possession and fine people. It’s a change in stance that now tries to define what we have always considered a public health issue as a criminal one.
The new president is turning back the clock and going back to times before decriminalization?
This is exactly what’s happening. We are seeing a reversal of guaranteed human rights, and we are in danger of losing even more of the human rights that we gained in the past right now. This is happening now, not just among the cannabis community, but with LGBTQ, Afro, indigenous and other communities here in Colombia as well.
As a human rights activist and lawyer, you have been using music to promote the message for a while now. Can you tell me how hip-hop and human rights come together for you?
I have been an activist for the Afro community, the LGBTQ community and many others here in Colombia for years. My music is an attempt to educate people about their rights through hip-hop fused with traditional Colombian rhythms. The idea is to break the stigma that people have about hip-hop—that it’s just music for thieves and bad characters—and use it as a channel to promote and spread information about human rights.
This was the driving motive behind the song and video for “Conciencia Diversa,” right? To make human rights a topic that infiltrates pop culture?
"Conciencia Diversa" is the product of a city initiative funded and promoted by the Red Cross and the Secretary of the Mayor of Bogota. The project was selected as a winner out of more than 60 different projects presented from across the city.
The original idea came from my dream to make a song and video in collaboration with diverse people from all the different communities here in Bogota, and especially here in the Candelaria. We all got together and made this video from all of our different perspectives but about the same theme—that we all are included as equals when it comes to human rights.
You also have songs about cannabis, right? Can you tell me what’s behind the title of your single “Me Gusta Con Semilla” ("I Like it With Seeds")?
This song is really a tribute to a variety of cannabis that is natural and organic called “Corinto,” that is cultivated here in Colombia. To say that I like the weed with the seed intact is to say that I want a natural bud that has not been altered genetically or chemically in any way. From my perspective, it’s getting harder and harder to find natural herb with seeds, as the proliferation of “Crippy”—a potent hybrid without seeds that some claim is a GMO strain introduced by Monsanto—is happening in every part of Colombia.
That’s scary! Okay, what’s in the future for Mais MC? How does the activism and the music all come together?
Actually, because of my activism and struggle for human rights for different communities here, my friends have put me on the ballot for the Consulting Counselor for culture, recreation and sports of the Candelaria district of Bogota.The position is for a community member that will have a voice and vote in the decisions of the local government on the themes of art and culture.
Specifically, I will be representing the LGBTQ community, and if I win, the idea is to achieve a real inclusion of the LGBTQ population in the cultural and artistic agenda of the Candelaria.
Awesome, and maybe someday a President Mais MC! Back to this new presidential decree, how is this going to play out? What’s the future for the cannabis movement and the human rights landscape in Colombia?
I think that with this new decree, we are definitely going backwards. The truth is that prohibiting drugs makes narcotrafficking more costly and therefore more lucrative. The deeper truth is that the war on drugs is really a big business. The U.S. has been sending lots of money to Colombia over the years to try to stop the cultivation of cannabis and coca. What doesn’t make sense is that states like California, Colorado and Washington have now entirely legalized the plant while here we are going to keep things illegal, which just means that people are going to keep dying.