Colombia Decriminalizes Cocaine and Marijuana, As Latin American Momentum for Drug Policy Reform Continues
Colombia's Constitutional Court Friday approved the government's proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cocaine and marijuana for personal use.
Anyone caught with less than 20 grams of marijuana or one gram of cocaine for personal use may receive physical or psychological treatment depending on their state of consumption, but may not be prosecuted or detained, the court ruled.
Colombia's move is part of a growing trend in Latin America. After decades of being brutalized by the U.S. government's failed prohibitionist drug policies, Latin American leaders are saying "enough is enough."
Last week, the government of Uruguay announced that it will submit a proposal to legalize marijuana under government-controlled regulation and sale, making it the first country in the world where the state would sell marijuana directly to its citizens. The proposal was drafted by Uruguayan President José Mujica and his staff and requires parliamentary approval before being enacted.
Friday's judicial ruling in Colombia represents yet another important step in the growing political and judicial movement in Latin America and Europe to stop treating people who consume drugs as criminals worthy of incarceration. It is consistent with prior rulings by Colombian courts before former president Álvaro Uribe sought to undermine them, and also with rulings by the Supreme Court of Argentina in 2009 and other courts in the region. The Colombian Constitutional Court's decision is obviously most important in Colombia, where it represents both a powerful repudiation of former president Uribe's push to criminalize people who use drugs and a victory for President Juan Manuel Santos' call for a new direction in drug policy.
Most decriminalization initiatives in Latin America, however, are being proposed and enacted not by courts but by presidents and national legislatures. In addition to President Santos, Guatemala's new president, Otto Pérez Molina, is an advocate of decriminalization as are - in various ways and to different degrees - the presidents of Costa Rica, Uruguay, Ecuador and Argentina. Some Latin American countries, it should be pointed out, never criminalized drug possession in the first place. This trend follows in the footsteps of European reforms since the 1990s. Portugal, which decriminalized drug possession in 2001, stands out as a model.
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