Liberal Party Senator Juan Manuel Galán originally introduced the measure before a public audience in the Colombian Congress. The senator is the son of Luis Carlos Galán, a former presidential candidate who drug traffickers murdered in 1989.
President Juan Manuel Santos also approved the proposal to legalize medical marijuana, and the bill must now survive four rounds of debate before it can be passed into law.
“We support the initiative for the medical and therapeutic use of marijuana. We think it is a practical, compassionate measure to reduce the pain and anxiety of patients with terminal illnesses,” Santos said in August.
The legislation’s proposal was broadcast live in the Senate, and included testimony from cancer, epilepsy, and arthritis patients, as well as officials from the Health Ministry and individuals who currently use marijuana illegally for medicinal purposes.
Before his speech in the Senate, Galván said he continues to look for solutions that are aligned with the reality of his country, and that the legislation was written based on testimony from marijuana growers, patients, and doctors who are familiar with cannabis use.
“The idea is to enhance the proposal, and to demonstrate there is no other interest beyond alleviating the suffering of a large number of people who have found marijuana to be an effective treatment,” said the legislator.
Safer than Alcohol
During the first round of debate, Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria commented on the health risks associated with marijuana use. “If one takes into account all of the affects on public health, marijuana can be considered safer than alcohol,” said Gaviria.
“The Ministry of Health is interested in creating a holistic policy, something we have done many times. An anti-drug policy must take public health issues into account, as well as an unconditional respect for human rights.”
According to Gaviri, an estimated 760,000 Colombians have reportedly tried marijuana.
“The world has changed. The medical marijuana debate is one that must be had. It is a debate that must move forward based on the evidence and the best scientific knowledge,” Gaviria said, referring to a study conducted by the English medical journal the Lancet.
What Would Approval Mean?
According to the senator, if the bill is approved, marijuana use will be “subject to regulations from the National Institute of Food and Drug Safety, health authorities, and the Ministries of Food and Justice, who will lead a multifaceted approval process to determine which illnesses will be allowed to be treated with medical marijuana, as well as an overhaul of how marijuana crimes are prosecuted.”
— Juan Manuel Galán (@juanmanuelgalan) October 28, 2014
The Other Side
Not all government officials agree with the proposal, however. Representatives from the Democratic Center — a faction of the Conservative Party — think legalization would increase the profits of violent, armed groups involved in drug trafficking.
“Legalization of marijuana would also open the door for the legalization of the profits of drug traffickers, who would be the ones controlling the business,” said Democratic Center Senator Alfredo Rangel. “The state does not have the infrastructure necessary to manage this business, which illegal traffickers have. This would legalize criminal activity, and directly affect public safety.”
“This isn’t Denmark. Here we have very serious drug trafficking problems,” added the senator, suggesting Colombia is not yet ready for an end to marijuana prohibition. “This would bring about abuses like the falsification of prescriptions and the type of chaos that would lead to an increase in consumption.”
The Colombian Catholic Church also strongly opposes Galán’s proposal. “We cannot use a substance that will cause social and psychological problems, like depression,” said Monsignnor Juan Vicente Córdoba, former secretary of the Episcopal Conference.
Although the sale of marijuana is still currently prohibited by law, Colombia decriminalized possession of up to 20 grams for personal in 2012.
Translated by Alex Clark-Youngblood. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.