Latin America: Colombian Supreme Court Rules Drug Possession Not a Crime

Upholding a 1994 ruling from the country's Constitutional Court, Colombia's Supreme Court has ruled that possession of illegal drugs for personal use is not a crime. The ruling came in the case of Ancizar Jaramillo Quintero, who had been arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for the possession of 1.3 grams of cocaine. The court threw out his conviction in July and ordered his immediate release.

In its opinion in the case (available here in Spanish), the court held that drug addiction is a disease, not a vice, and should be treated accordingly. Drug use "generates in a person problems of addiction and slavery that turn one into a sick, compulsive individual deserving of therapeutic medical treatment instead of a punishment," the judges said.

The court also invoked a principal that could be likened to "no harm, no foul." "In the exercise of his personal and private rights, the accused did not harm others," so his conduct "cannot be the object of any punishment," the opinion stated.

Although the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use was not a prosecutable offense, the government of President Alvaro Uribe is trying to undo that decision with a constitutional amendment. It has already been approved by the lower house and is now before the Colombian Senate.

If the Senate approves the measure, it will mean that the Colombian government is out of step not only with its own judiciary, but increasingly, with the rest of Latin America. Mexico decriminalized drug possession last month, and a few days later, the Argentine Supreme Court issued a decision decriminalizing marijuana possession on the spot and calling into question the criminalization of possession of any drug for personal use. Brazil, Ecuador, and Uruguay are headed down similar paths.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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America's hand?

What a coincidence that this should happen as problems with old Hugo mount up. In consideration is an increased American military presence on Colombian bases. Hmmmmmm I wonder........ I would suggest Uribe grow a backbone and consider the welfare of his own people rather than dance to the tune of the American arm up his ass. I would point out that I am an American who detests my governments policy on drugs. As a matter of fact I pretty well detest the government period.

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