This page was originally published in August 2014, and last updated in June 2016.
Although the legislative trend in Colombia has tended towards the criminalization of possession and consumption of psychoactive substances, decriminalization prevailed when it comes to jurisprudence. In addition, while the government of former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010) insisted on prohibiting, persecuting and punishing drug consumption through legislative and judicial channels, the country’s health sector, influenced by more progressive trends for dealing with consumption, made important progress in the areas of risk and harm reduction.
During the 20th century, drug policies in Colombia were increasingly repressive, largely ineffective, and heavily influenced by the international legal framework that was put in place. In effect, in just a few years Colombia went from having a scattered set of regulations, with an emphasis on prevention and medical-administrative treatment, to having legislation abundant in definitions of criminal conduct and sanctions that included the full drug cycle, from production through marketing and trafficking to consumption.
Law 1448 has been promoted as a demonstration of ‘good will’ by Santos' government in Colombia. The law’s main objective is to provide recognition to the victims of the Colombian armed conflict. This stands in contrast to the policy of denial enacted by the previous government.
Juan Manual Santos has inherited what some Colombian analysts call a “captured state” and those forces remain at the center of his own base of political support. As a result, many assume that a Santos administration means continuity – more of the same but perhaps with a gentler face. However, there are other, incipient positive signs of change.
In July 2016, the Colombian government enacted Law 1787, which regulates the use of medicinal cannabis and its trade in the country. With this decision and a series of subsequent resolutions, Colombia joined the more than a dozen countries that have put into practice different types of regulation to explore the advantages of this plant as an alternative pharmaceutical.
While the coca farmer is treated as a criminal the road to peace in the Colombian countryside will remain closed.
Although more and more coca is being eradicated, production levels remain steady. According to the latest Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), published in March 2008, more and more coca is being eradicated in South America. Despite this, the total area sown has remained stable in the region, as has the total production in metric tons of cocaine. In the case of Colombia, 23 per cent more was eradicated in 2006 than in 2005.
For 37 years Colombia has been spraying chemicals to combat illicit crops, particularly coca. These massive eradication programmes became part of the US-backed 'War on Drugs'. The fumigations are controversial for their proven inefficacy to reduce supply and demand for the use of herbicides such as glyphosate.
After decades of armed conflict, a peace process with the FARC-EP guerrilla movement was concluded in Colombia in 2016, serving as both a challenge and opportunity for the future of territorial peace, justice, and democracy in the country. In cooperation with local policymakers, experts, and social movements, TNI's work in Colombia revolves around the institute's cross-cutting expertise in trade policy, agrarian and environmental justice, and drug policy.
Alternative Development (AD) must not be part of a militarised security strategy, which is the predominant approach in Colombia. Instead of simply attempting to reduce the area planted with illicit crops, Alternative Development programmes should operate within the framework of a rural and regional development plan.
Colombia's Supreme Court ruled against harsh punishments for small-time drug offenders, in a move towards easing up Colombia's zero-tolerance drug laws, which have achieved little in the fight against organized crime.