Stop Dithering on Medical Marijuana in Colombia: Full Legalization Now

If Colombia were to legalize marijuana, it would boost tourism, local industry, exports to the largest consumer market in the world.
If Colombia were to legalize marijuana, it would boost tourism, local industry, exports to the largest consumer market in the world. (PanAm Post)

EspañolThe recent debate about whether or not to legalize medical marijuana in Colombia brings to mind a story told about the Vatican.

The Pope summons the College of Cardinals and announces that the Second Coming, and hence the Apocalypse, are imminent. A great commotion arises among the Cardinals and, when His Holiness asks what is happening, 53 of them respond that they are departing immediately for Bogotá.

Sed cur illuc? (But why thither?), asks the Summus Pontifex in perplexity.

A cardinal responds: Quod omnia ibi, sanctissime Domine, L annos post adveniunt. (Most Holy Father, because everything arrives there 50 years late).

Bizarrely, Senator Juan Manuel Galán‘s current proposal to permit the use of marijuana in Colombia only for medical purposes has caused a brouhaha among politicians and media talking heads. I ask myself if any of these people are aware that medical marijuana is legal in California since 1996.

In Colorado, marijuana for recreational use has been completely legal since January of this year. According to the New York Times, this has led to a 77 percent decrease in marijuana-related arrests in the first month alone, and a drop in the number of assaults and robberies carried out in Denver. The measure has also brought job creation, an increase in investment in the state, and an additional US$23.6 million in tax revenue from January to May alone.

Uruguay, meanwhile, has become the first country to regulate the legal production, sale, and consumption of marijuana products.

Colombia, on the other hand, despite being the country that has possibly suffered the drug war’s most devastating consequences in human and economic terms, has failed to place itself at the forefront of the global movement to end the catastrophic policies of prohibition.

Without a doubt, allowing the medical use of marihuana would help thousands of Colombian patients cope with their pain, but the infinitely more urgent debate for the citizens of this country is that concerning absolute legalization.

There is the case for individual liberty: why should the state determine what an adult can or cannot do with his own body, as long as he does not harm others?

There is the case for ending the criminal drug trade: in Colombia, the marijuana business is controlled by the FARC guerrilla and other criminal groups. Why not wrest the control and the profits from these hoodlums by creating a legal, regulated industry? In the United States, legitimate and serious enterprises entered the alcohol market after Prohibition, not the heirs to Al Capone and other violent gangsters whose profession was crime, which is the reason why they prospered under a black market.

Finally, there is the matter of economic opportunity: if marijuana production were legal in Colombia, it would be feasible to reach an agreement with Uruguay in order to sell our legitimate cannabis products to Uruguayan consumers. That would create a plethora of opportunities to generate export-based entrepreneurship and real, productive employment — as opposed to the thousands of state sector jobs which result from the government’s inefficient redistribution of wealth creators’ resources.

The objection that legally exporting marijuana is impossible, since it would infringe the terms of the United Nations’ Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, is irrelevant. If said agreement had any validity, Uruguay would have been unable to legalize. In fact, Colombia should lead a global diplomatic effort to drastically change the actual treaty, which is in essence obsolete after more than six decades of defeat in the war against drug traffickers.

The potential for a legal, regulated marijuana industry is not limited to the relatively small Uruguayan market. In 2012, voters in Washington state decided to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in small doses. This year, similar referenda will be held in Alaska and Oregon, and there is a considerable list of states that may legalize marijuana in the next few years.

Although US federal law prohibits marijuana imports from Colombia or any other country, there is an “irreversible trend toward the end of federal prohibition” according to the Cato Institute’s Juan Carlos Hidalgo. He refers to the recent New York Times editorial in favor of federal legalization, and a Gallup poll which reveals that 58 percent of Americans support ending prohibition.

So it’s time for Colombian politicians to leave behind the timid dithering about medical marijuana. We should legalize completely, boost local business and tourism, and prepare to export to the world’s largest consumer market.

As I recently heard someone say along El Rosario’s hallowed corridors: ceterum censeo interdictionem esse delendam! (In turn, prohibition ought to be destroyed!)

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