Bogotá, June 20 (EFE).- Colombia’s Senate on Tuesday rejected legislation to decriminalize the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes to adults.
The constitutional reform bill received 43 votes against and 47 in favor, thereby falling short of the 54 required for it to be passed during the eighth and final debate on the legislation, just one hour before the end of the current legislative session.
“I don’t consider this a defeat; we have taken a giant step, four years of putting such a controversial issue at the top of the public agenda, of the public debate,” Liberal Party Senator Juan Carlos Losada, who presented the bill, said, adding that it would be introduced again in the next legislative session.
“Continuing to leave a substance that is legal in the hands of the drug traffickers and drug dealers is detrimental to the children of Colombia and detrimental to the country’s democracy,” Losada said.
The use of marijuana for medical purposes is legal in Colombia but successive governments have opted for a prohibitionist policy under the long-standing promise of ending drug-trafficking.
Former President Álvaro Uribe included this prohibition explicitly in the Constitution and that is why now its decriminalization needs eight debates – instead of the normal four – in Congress.
Carrying up to 20 grams of marijuana and growing up to 20 plants for personal consumption has been allowed since 1986, but progressive lawmakers have been pushing for expanded marijuana legalization.
The bill’s proponents had hoped to pass the legislation last Thursday, but Senate President Alexander Lopez adjourned the session due to a verbal confrontation pitting two senators from the Green Alliance party – Inti Asprilla, who supports the bill, and Jota Pe Hernandez, who opposes it.
Debate resumed on Monday, but Lopez once again put off a vote, citing a lack of quorum.
That session ended up mired in controversy, since proponents of the bill had abandoned the chamber when it became clear they were one vote short of the 54 needed to approve the legislation (due to one missing lawmaker – Sen. Alex Florez of the ruling Historic Pact for Colombia coalition).
Lopez subsequently declared a lack of quorum for a vote on the bill, pushing it to Tuesday.