By Fred Rocafort, Attorney at Harris Bricken
Gustavo Petro is Colombia’s next president, following his electoral win on June 19. The election of its first leftist president, together with its first Afro-Colombian vice-president, is no doubt a momentous event for Latin America’s third-most populous country. What will a Petro presidency mean for cannabis?
According to Petro’s platform, a “focus on prohibitionism … imposed upon Colombia … war against coca, poppy, and cannabis.” In his view,
This war has failed and the country needs to move towards a new paradigm that brings together the global and Latin American will towards a concerted international agenda based on human rights and the construction of peace, the economic transformation of the producing environments without criminalizing the growers, the protection of nature, regulation, the judicial subjugation of criminal organizations and the approach of consumption as a public health issue.
As presented in the platform, cannabis and coca are an “important productive sector.” Petro calls for the development of cannabis agribusiness, with a view to its development as a regulated industry. In fact, the president-elect sees cannabis as having a special place in his efforts to spur development in the Colombian countryside, promising that the cannabis value chain will receive a “special impulse” under his government. In this regard,
The production and derivatives of cannabis will have a legal framework that privileges permits and commercial technical support for producer families, ensuring that small owners and producer cooperatives participate in the market and that safe distribution for the consumer is guaranteed in marketing. consumer and an important collection of taxes for the State. In turn, spaces will be opened in international trade with a variety of derived products – medicinal, food and textiles.
The incoming Petro administration can build on the progress Colombia has made with regard to cannabis in recent years. Medical cannabis was legalized in 2016. Earlier this year, Colombia issued regulations on the import and export of cannabis products. This means that there already is a framework in place for the international trade in cannabis that Petro envisions. Efforts in the not-so-distant past to legalize adult-use cannabis ran aground in the Colombian legislature, but Petro’s Pacto Histórico is a much more present force in Congress following legislative elections in March of this year.
As the Spanish proverb goes, del dicho al hecho hay gran trecho. Only time will tell what Petro’s priorities will be once in office, and cannabis reform may ultimately take a backseat. Or it may not, with the new government taking steps to make Petro’s vision of regulated, decriminalized cannabis a reality. One thing is clear though. A majority of the Colombian electorate has indicated that it wants to try a new path. The setting appears ripe for bold moves that could firm up Colombia’s role as the leader of the Latin American cannabis industry.
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