Colombia has had a long-running effort to legalize marijuana that came up short last Wednesday in the Senate when key lawmakers failed to obtain enough votes for the reform.
Colombian lawmaker Juan Carlos Losada brought the proposal to the eighth and last debate for discussion. Still, although 47 senators voted in favor of it compared to 43 against, it did not achieve an absolute majority of 54 votes required by law for reforms to be approved.
This means that Colombia will remain under its current system, which has been failing since 1986 when a decree allowing the possession and use of small amounts was issued.
The outcome of this vote is a major blow for Colombia, where hopes were high that this move would create a new path toward addressing drug crime. The reform also had the potential to bring much-needed income to neglected rural regions where illegal drug cultivation is rampant.
Supporters like María José Pizarro Rodríguez shared her disappointment after the vote saying, “We did everything possible to guarantee freedoms, overcome the legal chaos of decades, we wanted to take lives and resources away from illegality. We wanted for the communities, youth and women a daily life without mafias and violence. Throughout the entire process for the regularization of Cannabis for Adult Use, we gave an argued debate and with proposals, with height, without fanaticism or lies. We lost by very little, but we are certain that we will be more and more.”
Losada echoed these sentiments expressing his sadness but conviction in having tried their best until the very end. Despite this setback, Losada remains hopeful and determined to write a new chapter in Colombia’s fight against drugs.
Reasons for Failed Vote
The reason for the failed vote lies in part with the requirement that reforms need an absolute majority of 54 votes in order to pass. This means that even if more than 50% of senators voted in favor, more was required to pass the bill. Additionally, there was strong opposition from several political parties, including the Colombian Conservative Party and Unity Party for the People. These parties voiced their disapproval due to moral and religious arguments against legalizing marijuana.
Additionally, a pro-government Green Alliance party member, Jota Pe Hernández, loudly denounced the bill leading up to the Senate’s decision. He argued that legalizing recreational cannabis would be detrimental to society and expressed his view on social media afterward, saying, “The Senate says NO to legalizing the sale and distribution of marijuana!!!”
Despite these obstacles, 47 senators still voted in favor of the bill showing the amount of support for cannabis reform within Colombia. This is seen as a sign that more progress can be made in future debates and efforts will continue to move towards developing a regulatory model for cannabis.
Consequences of Failed Vote
The consequences of this failed vote are significant for Colombia due to its inability to establish a legal market for marijuana despite allowing personal possession and cultivation since 1986. This means that consumers will still have to resort to criminal networks to buy cannabis. Furthermore, rural regions that have been neglected due to war and poverty will not receive the revenue from taxes on marijuana sales that was anticipated with this reform.
Additionally, this news will likely dishearten those who are pro-legalization as it stalls any efforts to move towards a regulatory model for cannabis in Colombia for now. This failure also indicates a setback in the country’s attempt to rewrite its drug policies, which have failed since their introduction nearly 50 years ago.
Not Giving Up Hope
Despite this setback, activists and lawmakers are not giving up hope. Losada has expressed his commitment to continue working on the reform and is already planning for a new vote in two years when the current Congress ends its term.
A bill with similar content is being written in the House of Representatives, allowing it to be discussed in two years, setting the stage for another attempt at cannabis legalization in Colombia. This will enable advocates and legislators to work together to create a legal framework to address drug crime while bringing much-needed income into rural regions. It also provides more time for public opinion on marijuana reform to develop, as there have been some debates over religious values associated with prohibition.
This failed vote marks a setback but also serves as an opportunity to understand better the arguments in favor and against cannabis legalization and how it could address some of the country’s most pressing issues. By continuing to engage in discussions with open minds, Colombia can still move closer to a reality where marijuana is regulated instead of criminalized.
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