Colombia court: Personal drug use is not a crime

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, June 29, 2012 15:17 EDT
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A man smokes marijuana in a water pipe. Photo: Sergei Bachlakov / Shutterstock.com.
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The Constitutional Court of Colombia approved a plan that will drop all criminal penalties for individuals caught with small amounts of marijuana or cocaine, according to Spanish-language media reports.

That means anyone caught with less than 22 grams of marijuana, or one gram of cocaine, will no longer be subject to arrest or prosecution. People who are caught intoxicated in public can only be sent to receive medical or psychological treatment for their impairment.

The proposal, first introduced last year by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, is intended to refocus law enforcement resources on drug-runners and cartels and away from individual users.

“Today’s judicial ruling in Colombia represents yet another important step in the growing political and judicial movement in Latin America and Europe to stop treating people who consume drugs as criminals worthy of incarceration,” Ethan Nadalmann, who heads the U.S.-based Drug Policy Alliance, said in prepared text.

“The Colombian Constitutional Court’s decision is obviously most important in Colombia, where it represents both a powerful repudiation of [the former president's] push to criminalize people who use drugs and a victory for President Juan Manuel Santos’s call for a new direction in drug policy,” he added.

The measure is just one of a number of drug war reforms Colombia’s current regime has pursued. The nation’s Chamber of Representatives approved a bill in May that would legalize the cultivation of drugs that grow as plants, like marijuana, opium, coca and poppies.

Other countries, like Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil, are considering similar measures, and South American leaders recently met in Guatemala to discuss a new regional security accord that would include drug legalization, but the summit failed to produce an agreement after several key leaders failed to show up.

Colombia, a key U.S. ally in the region, has historically bent over backwards to enforce U.S. drug policies, going so far as to host U.S. troops on their military bases and allow U.S. drone surveillance of drug smuggling routes. They’ve even accepted prior U.S. administrations sending aircraft to spray hidden poppy and coca fields with toxic herbicides known to cause a variety of adverse health effects in humans.

President Barack Obama told South American leaders earlier this year that he’s willing to have a conversation on drug reforms, but insisted that legalization is not the answer. As a candidate for the U.S. Senate, Obama claimed he supported decriminalizing marijuana possession, but he’s not favored or even acknowledged that position as president. Instead, Obama has insisted that America’s war on drugs will not end on his watch, but he has voiced support for some reforms, like an increased focus on prevention and treatment over incarceration.

Sergei Bachlakov / Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

With prior reporting by Stephen C. Webster.

(H/T: Colombia Reports)

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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