Cannabis users have gathered in Bogotá to protest a new presidential decree that bans personal consumption of marijuana across Colombia.
The South American nation has a thriving medicinal cannabis industry and many Canadian firms are battling to seize market share there. For the past two decades, it has been legal for Colombians to carry small amounts of cannabis for personal use. But this month the country’s new president, Ivan Duque, launched a crackdown in a bid to reduce drug use.
Dozens of Colombians gathered in the city centre and marched through the streets, urging society to steer away from a return to hardline policies and instead start a proper debate on the issue. But police let off smoke bombs and dispersed the protest.
An effort to reduce all drug use was a key pillar in Duque’s presidential campaign and it resonated with conservative voters, as Colombia remains the world’s biggest cocaine producer, but cannabis has been caught in the crossfire. Police can now stop Colombians on the street, search them, confiscate drugs and fine any offenders.
“It’s not about sending people to jail,” said the president. “It’s about taking the drugs away and destroying them, because these substances harm public health and they harm children.”
Protestors say the law violates their constitutional rights, and accuse Duque of pandering to a conservative base. They argue that it will have no effect on consumption, and it flies in the face of relaxed attitudes towards cannabis that have been seen in North America and Europe.
A landmark case in 1994 by the Constitutional Court of Colombia banned the government from putting cannabis users in jail. The sentence also ruled that citizens can carry small amounts of drugs for personal use, because the government would otherwise be interfering with their constitutional right to freely develop their personalities. Legal experts are currently mulling over whether or not Duque’s crackdown is unconstitutional.
In a total juxtaposition, Colombia is becoming a world leader in the fast-growing medicinal cannabis industry, and it’s tipped to supply 44% of global demand this year. It has already issued more than 30 licenses to growers and International Cannabis Corp is currently building a 13ha Cannabis Park in the heart of the Bogotá savanna.