On June 20, the Senate in Colombia officially rejected a measure that would have allowed recreational cannabis sales. With a 43 to 47 vote, the bill failed to pass with the necessary 54 votes that would have enabled it to pass through its eighth and final debate.
According to Sen. Juan Carlos Losada, the progress seen with this bill is not the end of discussions for adult-use legalization. “I don’t consider this a defeat; we have taken a giant step, four years of putting such a controversial issue at the top of the public agenda, of the public debate,” Losada said. “Continuing to leave a substance that is legal in the hands of the drug traffickers and drug dealers is detrimental to the children of Colombia and detrimental to the country’s democracy.”
A report from La Prensa Latina explained that the eighth debate initially began on June 15, but Senate President Alexander Lopez adjourned the session due to a “verbal confrontation” between Sen. Inti Asprilla (a supporter of the bill) and Sen. Jota Pe Hernandez (who opposed it). Debates resumed again on June 19 but the vote was delayed again due to lack of senators present. The vote was then held on June 20, just before the end of the legislative session.
Former President Álvaro Uribe passed Legislative Act (no. 2) in 2009, which altered Article 49 of the constitution. Under “Drugs, alcohol, and illegal substances,” it states that “The possession and the consumption of narcotic and psychoactive drugs is prohibited, except for medical prescription.”
Since the passage of that constitutional amendment, multiple attempts have been made to expand cannabis access and pass legalization. In order to modify the Colombia constitution, a bill must pass in four debates in the Senate and four debates in the House of Representatives. After that, the bill would proceed to the president’s desk.
However, since the cannabis legalization bill did not pass in this debate, legislators will have to start over in the next attempt. This is the first time that a cannabis legalization initiative has reached the eighth session of debate.
Supporters of legalization expressed their excitement as the possibility of legalization grew. In May, the Chamber of Representatives passed the bill for its sixth debate. Rep. Losada Tweeted about the event. “#HISTÓRICO Approved with 98 votes our project of #CannabisDeUsoAdulto in 6th debate. Today @CamaraColombia It shows that we are a country that wants to change the failed prohibitionist drug policy to one based on prevention and public health,” Lasada wrote.
Earlier this month on June 6, the Senate passed the bill for its seventh debate.
Following the bill rejection during the eighth debate, Losada wrote on Twitter that the effort is far from over. “We are sad, but convinced that we gave it our all to the end. We never thought to go that far,” he said. “Today we have majorities, 7 votes were missing. We have been in this fight for 4 years and we will not give up to write a new history in the fight against drugs. Thank you!”
Other supporters such as Sen. María José Pizarro also remain optimistic. “We will remain firm in defending the regulation of #CannabisDeUsoAdulto due to convictions; because the communities of our country have a different opportunity to violence and a job in legality. So that children and youth are not at the mercy of the mafias and jíbaros Colombia, we are going to put ourselves at the forefront #EsHoraDeRegular . @JuanKarloslos gracias!” Pizzaro wrote on Twitter.
In 2016, Colombia legalized medical cannabis production, sale, and export. In July 2021, former Colombia President Ivan Duque approved efforts for legal sales and global export of dried cannabis flower.