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Colombian High Court Re-Legalizes Drug Possession

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #699)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

In an August 24 ruling, the Colombian Supreme Court rejected a 2009 constitutional amendment recriminalizing the possession of personal use amounts of illegal drugs. Prior to that amendment, pushed vigorously by then President Alvaro Uribe, the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use had been legal under a 1994 Constitutional Court decision.

Palace of Justice, Bogota (image via Wikimedia)
Between the 1994 ruling and the 2009 amendment, adults were allowed to legally possess up to 20 grams of marijuana, one gram of cocaine, and two grams of synthetic drugs. After Uribe's reform, people arrested with small amounts of illegal drugs faced prison sentences of 64 to 108 months.

The ruling overturning Uribe's amendment came in the case of Juan Carlos Vela Gomez, a teenager sentenced to five years in prison after being caught with 80 grams of marijuana. Although Vela Gomez carried more than the 20 gram personal use amount, the court still found that subjecting him to a lengthy prison sentence violated "personal freedoms."

The move is a welcome step and one in line with drug policy reforms in other Latin American countries, but as Insight Crime noted, Colombia still has some of the most repressive drug policies in the region. More than 12,000 were doing time for drug crimes in Colombian prisons at the end of 2009, up 3% over 2003, and most of them are believed to be low-level offenders, including drug couriers and coca-leaf pickers.

Colombia has received around $6 billion in US anti-drug assistance since the inauguration of Plan Colombia in the late 1990s.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Philbert Morris (not verified)

US Drug prohibition is killing us here in the Caribbean, in Central America and in Northern South America. Two seemingly innocuous paradigms were formulated by Eisenhower long ago: that of a WAR on something (it was poverty then) and the idea of fighting all of US wars offshore. Sixty years later, we are the collateral damage.>When I saw two years ago that there was to be a new "sub" OAS, without the US & Canada, I thought that a change in drug policy was its chief aim, but I have heard nothing.

Fri, 09/09/2011 - 12:22am Permalink

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