Unless Steve Harvey comes out and says otherwise, Colombia just won big on the medical cannabis front.
On Tuesday December 22, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos officially signed a decree to legalize and regulate medical cannabis (MMJ). Speaking to a national television audience, Santos announced that Colombians could now legally grow, process, import and export cannabis for scientific and medical use. To do so, growers must apply for a license from the National Narcotics Council.
In his address from the presidential palace, Santos said, "This decree allows licenses to be granted for the possession of seeds, cannabis plants and marijuana. It places Colombia in the group of countries that are at the forefront... in the use of natural resources to fight disease. Our goal is for patients to be able to access medications made in Colombia that are safe, high-quality and accessible. It is also an opportunity to promote scientific research in our country."
Senator Juan Manuel Galan, who introduced MMJ legislation last year, estimated that 400,000 Colombians will benefit from the forthcoming legalization, but the decree differs from the legislation he introduced. Galan’s bill seeks to define production details like crop limits. Galan said he expects the bill he sponsored to become law by summer.
Colombia has been a long-time ally in the War on Drugs, and the U.S. helped the national police take down notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar in December 1993. Twenty-two years later, the South American country most commonly associated with cocaine actually trails Peru and Bolivia in white-powder production. Despite a long and fruitful alliance with the U.S., Colombia will now draw the line at cannabis.
In early November, the Colombian government announced plans to legalize the cultivation and sale of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes. The government previously decriminalized possession in 2012, and various Constitutional Court rulings over the past 20 years supported its citizens’ rights to possess small amounts for personal use.
Mexico, Chile, Uruguay and other Latin American countries previously broke with the U.S. on strict cannabis prohibition, but Colombia stands out as one of the most reliable War on Drugs allies. Just as many U.S. states have broken with federal cannabis prohibition, Colombia officially broke ranks on MMJ.
Despite its associations with cocaine, Colombia was originally famous for cannabis. Mexico and Jamaica had been the top cannabis suppliers to the U.S., but initiatives in those countries decreased supply by the mid-1970s. Colombia, which became famous in the ʼ70s for strains like Santa Marta Gold, quickly filled the void, and at its height, Colombian cannabis made up 70 percent of the U.S. market. By the early 1980s, a Congressional committee estimated that the country exported up to 60,000 tons of cannabis each year. Escobar, a former cannabis seller and long-time stoner, shifted the drug trade to cocaine as a more profitable export, and the smugglers benefited from the infrastructure already set up for cannabis. This suggests, at least to some extent, that the 1980s coke and crack craze benefited from U.S. cannabis prohibition.