A constitutional reform that sought to legalize the recreational cannabis market for adult use failed to pass the Senate in Colombia. The measure, led by liberal lawmaker Juan Carlos Losada, reached the eighth and last debate, but did not obtain enough votes to be approved in the upper chamber. While 47 senators voted in favor, compared to 43 against, an absolute majority of 54 votes was needed — a requirement for reforms to the Constitution.
The outcome means that Colombia’s failed model to combat drugs remains changed. There were hopes that the country was going to follow a new path to address drug crime, beyond prohibition, but Wednesday’s decision means has stalled efforts to move towards a regulation model.
Senator María José Pizarro, a member of the ruling Historic Pact for Colombia coalition, who backed the project, thanked her party for its support and lamented the result of the Senate vote.
“We have come to the debate feeling exhausted, but with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that we have done everything possible for this country to imagine different paths to face a problem that deeply afflicts it,” said Pizarro.
According to the senator, the failure of the reform “is a win for illegality and a loss for health.” “The communities of Cauca are the losers, and the children especially because they will continue to be at the mercy of the drug traffickers,” she said, in reference to the fact that the money collected in taxes from the sale of cannabis would have gone directly to areas, such as Cauca, where there is the highest level of illegal drug cultivation. That money could have played a very important for the economies of neglected rural regions. According to Losada, the income derived from the commercialization of cannabis was to be earmarked for health, education and agriculture.
The failure of the reform on Tuesday was compounded by other blows to the administration of President Gustavo Petro. The government’s labor reform also failed to pass, while the opposition held mass marches in several cities across Colombia. With no labor and no prospect of legalizing recreational cannabis, the government is in a difficult position. The defeats also come as the government struggles with a sweeping political crisis over wiretapped conversations. What’s more, the government’s two other major reforms — on pension and healthcare — also lack clear majorities. Petro — the leader of the Humane Colombia party — governs as part of a coalition of several different groups, which do not always agree with one another, making it difficult for the government to reach majorities.
The proposal to legalize the recreational cannabis market was opposed by the Colombian Conservative Party, some senators of Unity Party for the People and even lawmaker Jota Pe Hernández, from the officially pro-government Green Alliance. In the lead-up to the Senate vote, Hernández loudly denounced the bill, criticizing it for moral and religious reasons.
“The bill that sought to legalize the marijuana business has just been tanked. We did it. The Senate says NO to legalizing the sale and distribution of marijuana!!!” the senator wrote on his Twitter account.
In a recent interview with EL PAÍS, Losada explained the most important features of the proposal. “This constitutional reform seeks to allow Colombia to have a legal cannabis market,” he explained. “Since 1986, it has been legal to carry and consume a personal dose, which is up to 20 grams, and it is also legal to grow up to 20 plants per person. How does it make sense that in a country where it is legal to consume, carry and grow cannabis, it is illegal to sell and buy it? It is an absurdity that has pushed consumers to buy from criminal networks.”
At the end of the vote, Losada thanked the lawmakers who supported him. “We are sad, but convinced that we gave it our all until the end. We never thought we would get this far,” he said. “Today we have majorities, we were short seven votes. We have been in this fight for four years and we shall not falter in our effort to write a new chapter in the fight against drugs.”
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition