A Serious Push for Adult-Use Cannabis

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A bill that aims to allow the adult use of cannabis in Colombia, which already has a robust medical cannabis system, is making its way through the nation’s Senate, along with hopes that the bill could help alleviate poverty in certain areas and even possibly reduce the production of coca.  

The bill was introduced by Senator Gustavo Bolívar Moreno, who crafted it with the help of social organizations, farmworkers, and victims of Colombia’s war on drugs, he told Cannabis Wire. Its stated purpose is to use the industry to repair socioeconomic conditions in impoverished areas and regions hardest hit by the country’s decades-long armed conflict. 

However, at a fundamental level, Bolívar Moreno’s bill seeks to resolve a discrepancy in the country’s cannabis policy: In 1994, the Constitutional Court established that the consumption of a “personal dose” is not subject to criminal sanctions, arguing that the criminalization of consumption goes against human dignity and the free development of personality of its citizens. 

However, Colombian law prevents sales. So to date, the only way for Colombians to legally obtain cannabis is by cultivating plants at home. This, according to Bolívar Moreno’s bill, pushes consumers who do not have access to cultivation into the illicit market. Plus, the senator added, even those who are willing and able to grow cannabis at home struggle to obtain the seeds. 

As Bolívar Moreno’s bill underscores, in the 1994 ruling, Colombia’s Constitutional Court noted that, on “One hand, the consumption of a personal dose is authorized. That is to say that individuals are allowed to consume drugs, but its production, distribution, and sale is prohibited. A law that protects the consumer but, on the other hand, sanctions the supplier is completely devoid of logic.”

In response, the adult use cannabis bill proposes allowing for its domestic production—but with an emphasis on social justice. Here are some of the draft legislation’s key features:

  • Taxes—Once the national government establishes the tax rate for adult use, 50 percent of tax revenues will be earmarked for programs geared at preventing all drug use. In addition, 25 percent will be used to bolster the substitution of cannabis for illicit crops and for sustainable development, while the remaining 25 percent will be set aside for costs associated with implementing the new law. The bill also stipulates that the tax rate should be set in a way that does not “incentivize consumers to resort to the illegal market.”  
  • Licenses—The Colombian Institute for the Regulation of Cannabis, which would be established through this bill, would be required to prioritize 35 percent of its licenses for small-scale growers who possess less than 0.5 hectares (or about 1.2 acres) of land who meet two of the following criteria: (1) reside in a territory that has been affected by illicit cultivation; (2) be a victim of the armed conflict; or (3) be a female head of household. The bill also stipulates that these licenses are to be provided either for free or at a low cost. Additionally, the Institute will create special adult use cultivation licenses for indigenous communities, which would be regulated under their jurisdiction. Licensed cultivators of cannabis for adult use who possess more than one hectare (about 2.5 acres) of land will be obligated to acquire 25 percent of their raw material from small-scale cultivators.
  • Intellectual property—Indigenous communities will have intellectual property rights over cannabis seeds that have been traditionally sown in their territory and have not been registered with the Colombian Institute of Agriculture. The government will also work with universities across the country to support the research and breeding of cannabis seeds, so that these varieties can be registered by rural, indigenous, and Afro-descendant communities.
  • Advertising—The advertising of adult use cannabis would be prohibited on social media, on the radio, on television, and in theatres. It would also be banned in newspapers, magazines, and other printed matter. Adult use cannabis companies would also be banned from providing direct or indirect sponsorships.
  • Crop Substitution—Small-scale growers who sign up for Colombia’s National Comprehensive Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops and similar programs could obtain an adult use license, either by using pre-existing unlicensed cannabis crops or by making the transition from other illicit crops (e.g., coca) to the licensed cannabis market.

According to the bill’s author, the transition from coca to cannabis would be the “ideal scenario, not just for us, at the domestic level, but perhaps for the world.” 

“Of course,” Senator Bolívar Moreno told Cannabis Wire, “this will not put an end to global cocaine sales, because the demand will remain intact. Consumers will just get their supply elsewhere. However, this effort can, at the very least, take farmworkers out of the realm of illegality and protect them from persecution.” The goal, he said, is “no more deaths, no more incarcerations, no more confiscation of the fruit of one’s labor.”

Notably, the bill could pave the way for the exportation of cannabis flower—a practice currently prohibited under the medical use regulations. In conversation with Bolívar Moreno, Cannabis Wire pointed out that when lawmakers crafted the medical cannabis legislation, they deliberately prohibited the export of raw material so as to obligate foreign companies to build their facilities, and to manufacture and innovate within Colombia’s borders.

In response, the senator said “that it is important to prevent foreign companies from taking Colombia’s raw material and then selling finished products back to the country at an escalated price.” However, he added, under the medical use regulations, “It’s become very difficult, very costly, practically impossible for farmworkers to obtain licenses.” With his bill, Bolívar Moreno seeks to “enable indigenous communities, farmworkers, and ancestral growers to profit from the industry,” as well as “establish business ties with private companies in Colombia and abroad.” 

The measure, he said, is backed by former President Juan Manuel Santos, whose administration signed medical use into law. The adult use bill, however, is opposed by the Democratic Center party, which controls the Executive Branch under President Iván Duque Márquez. 

Despite this opposition, Bolívar Moreno has secured the support of senators from several other political parties and he says he is confident that his bill has a good chance of moving forward. In the coming weeks, he added, the draft legislation will come before the Senate’s First Commission, where conservative parties that oppose it are in the minority. 

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