The likes of Canada may be moving forward but Colombia is moving – even further – backwards. Cannabis users in Bogota protested in a ‘smoke-athon’ over the weekend after new President Ivan Duque signed a degree banning personal drug possession and ordering police to confiscate all quantities of the drug.
For the past two decades it has been legal to carry small amounts of cannabis for personal use. Stop and search will be ramped up and those caught will be fined, but not sent to prison.
A protester giving a speech said: “We are not violent people. We consciously regulate our habit without causing any damage to others. Today we peacefully disobey.”
An attempted march to the centre of the city was violently dispersed by police.
Despite the fact that Colombia has already wasted billions of dollars fighting the war on drugs, ostensibly the move is designed to undermine criminal organisations and trafficking in the country that is still the world’s largest cocaine producer.
Duque, leader of the Democratic Centre Party, promised a crackdown on all drugs during his election campaign. He wants to bring back aerial fumigation of cocoa crops, a policy that has been backed by US President Donald Trump. He claims that confiscated drugs will be destroyed “because these substances harm public health and they harm children”.
Sandra Borda, a political science professor, said she had received attacks and threats for denouncing the move. “I don’t think this is going to have any particular effect on the war on drugs,” she told Al-Jezeera. It is not going to reduce, consumption, trafficking or even production. They are basically pandering to a very conservative base.”
Colombia’s June election returned key legislative power to allies of the ‘Uribistas’, conservative and far-right politicians tied to ex-president Alvaro Uribe, the country’s seventh richest person, with the mass of their voting base coming from land owners and rural areas. With Uribe being investigated on multiple murder charges by the Supreme Court and the International Criminal Court, Duque is said to be a close substitute. Like Uribe, Duque opposes the peace and reintegration process negotiated by outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos (Social Party of National Unity) with the now demobilised FARC military (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), which brought decades of civil war to an end and saw Santos rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.
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