For all the beauty that exists in the mountains and coastlines of Columbia, it’s difficult to think of the country without visions of international drug cartels showing up somewhere in the back of your mind. Sadly, as a country so deeply engrained with rich culture and history, they are as deeply engrained in a dark underworld that is controlled by merciless and relentless criminal organizations that seek to thrive at any expense necessary, and any attempt to undermine their operations are sure to be met with deadly force.
As the violence continues to spread throughout the country of Colombia, Lawmakers are starting to debate if marijuana should be fully legalized. Demonstrations in support of legal marijuana have been occurring within Medellin and other parts for over a month. Many citizens feel that it is the only solution to securing the streets and ridding the nation of the crime that has stemmed for centuries from the country’s drug wars.
Colombia’s long history of bloody, drug violence and illegal drug trade has reached a boiling point in the minds of the innocent citizens who want to secure the future and safety of their country. These citizens are now attempting to take back the voice that has been silenced for so long. Strong demonstrations within the capital have motivated government officials to push towards the legalization of marijuana. For over a year now, legislators have pushed to legalize medical marijuana, but as the violence continues to put innocent lives in danger, including police, military forces, and civilians, Sen. Roy Barreras hopes to legalize recreational marijuana as well, putting an end to a forty year war.
Sen. Barreras is from the southwestern city of Cali which was once considered the most violent place in Colombia. Barreras has been appointed the task to try and convince the people that marijuana shouldn’t be stigmatized as it has been in the past. “This is a complex issue because parents are anxious and worried, and believe their children will turn into potheads the next day. But I tell them with full conviction that if their children are not alcoholics today despite alcohol being legal, the same can be said about legal marijuana. Prohibition, not drugs, is fueling gang violence in Colombia.” Barreras’ goal is to take the market out of the hands of local drug cartels and permit law and government enforcement to eliminate the country’s drug problem.
A bill was passed through the Colombian senate which legalized medical marijuana last November. The move was the first step in allowing the government to regulate the cultivation and distribution of legal marijuana. By approving the bill, President Juan Manual Santos was able to publicly endorse the idea of legalizing medical marijuana. He expressed that the bill showed a practical, compassionate measure to reduce pain and suffering for patients with terminal illnesses, epileptics and people suffering from anxiety. The president also agreed that the bill presented a promising solution to combating the drug war, cutting out criminals as the middle man.
Colombia’s transition into full legalization has inspired other South American nations to do the same. The drug war in Colombia has spread all over the continent, helping to create violence in nations that are suffering economically. Argentina, Brazil and Chile are the other countries that are strongly considering legalizing medical marijuana. Still, Uruguay is accredited with undergoing the “great experiment” by being the first country to fully legalize marijuana in 2013. While implementation and regulation challenges are still present, government officials still have a strong outlook on the financial returns and safety that stems from legalizing marijuana. According to Secretary General Julio Calzada of the National Drug Council, “having a legal source of marijuana will do more to fight the illegal marijuana trade than cracking down on drug dealers.”
Colombia’s decision to legalize marijuana will surely attack rebel groups, cartels and gangs in a way that has no defense. It’s a crippling move to their operations and the effects will be widespread. Now that the benefits of medical marijuana are becoming undeniable, all that’s needed is a strong effort to educate those who are still uninformed on such benefits. Uruguay is justifiably accredited with being the first nation to fully legalize marijuana, providing a blue-print for others to follow. But Colombia’s voice will be stronger if they succeed, changing the landscape of South America towards a safer future.