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Medicinal marijuana offers Colombia a new approach to drugs


By Cynthia de Benito

Bogota, Nov 11 (EFE).- A bill to legalize medicinal marijuana set to be taken up Tuesday by Colombia’s Senate could be the start of a new approach to the drug problem, the son of a presidential hopeful slain by the cartels 25 years ago said in an interview with Efe.

Sen. Juan Manuel Galan is the author of the bill that would allow the use of pot by people suffering from terminal illness or chronic painful conditions, including cancer and AIDS.

Asked about critics who say his proposal could open the door to a wider decriminalization of drugs, Galan replies: “They are right. We’re looking for a way out of the policy of prohibition that has caused death, violence, blood and enormous costs and has not brought any benefit.”

The senator’s father, reformist presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, was assassinated in August 1989 by gunmen in the pay of drug lords whose power he had challenged.

Sen. Galan’s bill has received an endorsement from Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria and enjoys indirect support from President Juan Manuel Santos.

Can Colombia change its position on drugs? Juan Manuel Galan’s answer is that having endured decades of horrific narco-violence, no country is better equipped than his to execute a 180-degree turn on the issue.

“It’s a step Colombia must take, and can take with full moral authority, precisely because it has suffered the negative consequences of prohibition,” the senator told Efe.

Marijuana is the most widely consumed illegal drug in Colombia, according to the latest figures from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, which documented a doubling in the proportion of pot users in the Andean nation to 15.2 percent over the last five years.

“We present the bill now because there is a growing population in the country of chronically and terminally ill people for whom medicinal and therapeutic marijuana represents a better quality of life and a benefit,” Galan said. “But also because there is a general consensus in the world that prohibition has failed.”

Even now, he pointed out, a Colombian citizen may cultivate up to 20 marijuana plants at his or her home.

The aim of his bill is to create a system that will give the state control over production and sale of pot, the senator said.

He said the mechanism he has in mind would include “all public and private actors,” including the Health Ministry, medical professionals, patients’ associations and people interested in growing pot and selling it to the state-run distributor.

Galan also wants the initiative to encompass marijuana-based oils, ointments and creams that “are already produced on a craft basis by firms in Colombia.”

“What we want now is that they continue producing, but in a regulated and controlled manner, with health inspections, with authorizations, paying taxes,” he added.

Points to be addressed in the Senate debate on the bill include the nature of the procedure for issuing licenses to growers and questions such as how many plants an individual grower may have, Galan said