Pubdate: Fri, 13 Nov 2015
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News, The (VI)
Copyright: 2015 The Associated Press
Author: Joshua Goodman, The Associated Press


BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) - Colombia's government plans to legalize the 
cultivation and sale of marijuana for medicinal and scientific 
purposes, officials said Thursday in a surprise shift by the longtime 
U.S. ally in the war on drugs.

The change is coming in an executive decree that President Juan 
Manuel Santos will soon sign into law. It will regulate regulating 
everything from licensing for growers to the eventual export of 
products made from marijuana, Justice Minister Yesid Reyes said.

With the new policy, Colombia joins countries from Mexico to Chile 
that have experimented with legalization or decriminalization as part 
of a wave of changing attitudes toward drug use and policies to 
combat it in Latin America. But unlike many of its neighbors, 
Colombia has long been identified with U.S.-backed policies to 
eradicate drug production and a sharp decline in levels of violence 
over the past 15 years is largely attributed to the no-tolerance policing.

Sen. Juan Manuel Galan, who last year introduced legislation that 
tracks with the government's decree, said that as many as 400,000 
Colombians suffering from epilepsy and other ailments could benefit 
from the clearer regulatory framework to be provided by the decree.

Colombians for two decades have been allowed to possess small 
quantities of any narcotic for personal use thanks to a series of 
Constitutional Court rulings guaranteeing the "free development of 
one's personality."

But the congress and the executive branch have been loath to endorse 
such views, in part because of officials' skittishness about showing 
any weakness in a country that is the biggest supplier of cocaine to the U.S.

Indeed, conservative critics in Colombia and abroad see Santos' drive 
to reform drug policy, including a decision earlier this year to end 
a two-decade-old campaign of spraying illegal coca crops with 
herbicides, as a sign that the government's resolve is weakening.

Reflecting those concerns, officials went to great lengths Thursday 
to explain that they are not looking to further liberalize 
recreational use of marijuana as was recently done in Uruguay, the 
region's pioneer in drug policy reform.

"Nobody is talking about legalizing anything except for these two 
purposes," Reyes said.

Colombia gained international fame since the 1970s as a producer of 
potent pot strains such as Santa Marta Gold.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom