EL ESPECTADOR, September 1, 2022

(Translation by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

In a memorandum, six organizations suggest to President Gustavo Petro a series of strategies for the short, medium, and long term, to promote actions that could save lives and reduce the harms associated with both the consumption and the production of drugs.

By means of a memorandum to the administration of President Gustavo Petro, six academic and civil society organizations that work on issues related to drug policy proposed a series of recommendations, supplementing the statements they had already made, and which focus on promoting actions that would save lives, manage the risks related to psychoactive substances, and reduce the harm associated with the consumption and production of drugs, all of the proposals for the short, medium, and long term.

“It’s urgent to have a coherent strategy of communication on the new drug policies. Therefore, we are identifying actions for the first 100 days of the administration, for the first six months, the medium and the long term, with the intention of organizing the activities strategically. While the changes are taking place, we will be in a period of transition, and we have to manage the contradictions that could arise along the road.

“We are prioritizing the reforms at the national level that could place us as an international leader on the path toward a new drug policy, one that prioritizes the rights of Colombians and does not affect international relations,” points out the document, signed by the Center for Drug and Security Studies (CESED in Spanish) at the University of the Andes; the Social Technical Action Corporation (ATS in Spanish); Human Rights Element; Center for Law, Justice and Society Studies (Dejusticia); Viso Mutop Corporation; and the Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP in Spanish).

These organizations see that the world is discussing new ways to focus on drug policy, and therefore, it’s important to “educate society to minimize the negative impact of the consumption of regulated substances.” To that end, they suggest that reforming drug policy “is a necessary step in reaching peace in Colombia, as also has been suggested by the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, and also Colombia’s Truth Commission (CEV in Spanish), as well as academic studies that demonstrate that prohibitionism has been a persistent factor in the armed conflict.”

This is the complete document:

Memorandum on Drug Policy

As academic and civil society organizations that work in areas related to drug policy, we celebrate the spirit of reform that the administrations has expressed on this subject. In this document, we make recommendations that complement the announcements from the administration promoting actions that will save lives in Colombia, manage the risks related to psychoactive substances, and reduce the harms associated with the production and consumption of drugs. The recommendations are organized by time frames, showing the priorities of the sector and the legal and institutional possibilities for implementing the desired changes in drug policy.

It’s urgent to have a coherent strategy for communications about the new drug policy. Therefore, we are identifying actions to be taken in the first 100 days of the administration, the first six months, the medium and long term, with the intention of organizing a strategic manner for taking action. While the changes are happening, we will be in a period of transition, and we need to manage the contradictions that could arise along the way. We prioritize the reforms at the national level that could place us as an international leader on the road to a new drug policy, that places its priority on the rights of Colombians, and does not affect international relations.

During the first 100 days of the administration

Government agencies

  • In the office of the Vice Minister of Rural Development, create a section to manage productive capability and income generation in areas where coca, cannabis, and poppies are being produced. In the office of the Vice Minister of Public Health Services, create a section to manage health damage reduction. In the National Planning Department (DNP), create a special section for drug policy in the office of the Assistant Director of Prospective and National Development. These changes should be accompanied by the elevation of drug policy management to the Office of the Vice Minister of multilateral matters in the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

The new drug policy requires a robust institutionality, with funds and with the capacity to exchange views among high level cabinet members. For now, the management of drugs in the Justice Ministry must be strengthened, and all of the Ministries need to be brought together in the National Narcotics Council under the leadership of the President and the Justice Minister. Drug policy requires leadership and inter-institutional articulation, and therefore, we recommend temporarily delegating these functions to the sectoral management of the DNP while the National Narcotics Statute is being reformed, as will be proposed later.

  • Promote the regulation of adult use of cannabis, with rules that favor indigenous farmers and campesinos.

The administration should organize the legislative initiatives that will support and define a consistent narrative for the two principal bills to be introduced in the Congress (by Gustavo Bolívar and Juan Carlos Losada, respectively) for the regulation of cannabis use by adults. They should be introduced simultaneously and be approved as soon as possible.

  • The President’s Office should re-activate the alliance of Members of Congress committed to reform of drug policy, to be able combine their current initiatives and establish a roadmap. They should push for reform of Article 49 of the Constitution to eliminate the phrase “possession and consumption of narcotic or psychotropic substances is prohibited, except with a doctor’s prescription”. It’s necessary to reform that article for any legislative initiative oriented toward the regulation of any psychoactive substance.
  • Make Decree 380 of 2021 ineffective. The Decree regulates control of the risks to health and the environment in the framework of eradication of illegal crops by aerial aspersion.
  • Give  priority to a meeting of the National Narcotics Council, the agency that governs drug policy and is headed by the President, to define the national strategy for reforms that include short term institutional changes, to reach a high level of coordination, articulation, and agency cooperation, to define the road map for a new National Narcotics Statute, establish and reform eradication methods, and strengthen the production of evidence in the Colombian Observatory of Drugs.

Foreign Relations

  • Undertake immediate diplomatic negotiations with the United States, under the direction of the Ministry of Foreign Relations and Colombia’s Ambassador, in order to review the goal of reduction of coca plantings by 50% in 2023. This goal could affect certification if it is not met. The negotiation must be oriented to avoid expansion and reduce the plantings in strategic environmental areas, in collective territories belonging to ethnic communities, and in national parks. These objectives must be consistent with recent White House guidelines, as well as pointing out new indicators for monitoring. This negotiation must be carried out promptly, considering the possible change in the make-up of the United States Congress.
  • Establish relations with the States in the United States that have regulated cannabis and other substances, in order to collect experiences with the market and with the focus on public health.

Territorial transformation

  • Define the continuity, adjustments and achievements of the Comprehensive National Program for the Substitution of Plantings for Illegal Use (PNIS) in the articulation with the Comprehensive Municipal and Community Plans for Substitution and Alternative Development (Pisd ) and the Development Plans with a Territorial Focus (Pdet), and include what has been learned in the six years of their implementation. The principal adjustments that are recommended are:
  1. Resume the petitions for institutionalized participation in the campesino and ethnic communities, in order to determine new needs and regain confidence in the actions of the government. To make the adjustments that the Program needs, we recommend that the administration undertake and finance the petitions for participation that Pnis created after Decree 362 of 2018.
  2. Gradually apply or gradually reduce the plantings for illegal use according to the correct sequence of activities or components agreed to in the Program.
  3. Immediately develop agreements to reduce plantings for illegal use, based on monitoring by the community, which has to be attended to by the peace agencies according to the commitments by the Legally Binding Regional Commitments.
  4. Implement the measures by the Truth Commission recommending that the relationship with communities where illegal crops are being grown should be demilitarized. The analysis of the context and the identification of situations of risk with the Armed Forces should be implemented to guarantee the protection of social and community leaders.
  5. A new comprehensive focus for the new containment agreements should be articulated with the Pdet. They should design activities oriented to the transformation of the countryside instead of benefits for individual homes.
  6. Formalization of land ownership should be included in activities oriented toward substitution. That has been demonstrated to be effective in controlling the expansion of coca plantings.
  7. Focus the program on the principal short-term objective of containing the expansion of coca plantings in strategic environmental areas and ethnic lands, and at medium term focus on the transit to a sustainable economy that will conserve these areas.
  8. Enter into contracts for land use, contracts for conservation, or other concepts directed at conservation of the environment by means of the requests for participation prepared in the Pnis and accompanied by environmental agencies.
  9. Include productive projects that promote the development of markets for uses that are alternatives to planting coca.

Public health and coexistence

  • Repeal Decree 1844 of 2018 that classifies possession and transporting substances like marijuana, cocaine, etc. as behavior that is contrary to coexistence.
  • Promote the implementation of the Ten-Year Public Health Plan for 2022-2031, approved by Resolution No. 1035 in 2022 by the Health Ministry. It includes the use of drugs as a matter of interest to public health and includes the reduction of harms as one of its main ideas.
  • Permit national use of the medicinal grade dried flower as a phytotherapeutic product, amended by Article of Decree 613 of 2017 to make progress in patients’ access to medicinal cannabis in Colombia. Make progress in connecting small farmers (Statute 1787, Article 3, Paragraph 6) with industry, and strengthen the government’s obligation to establish services in evaluating the chain of production. Implement Decree 811 of 2021 which permits the exportation of the dried flower of medicinal cannabis, and expedite the regulations that allow the production of foods and drinks based on CBD.

Criminal justice policy

  • Call a meeting of the National Criminal Justice Policy Council to consider legal reforms to make the use of imprisonment more rational and promote alternatives to incarceration for minor and non-violent drug crimes.
  • Give guidance from the Justice Ministry on the possible administrative and prisoner rights benefits that are available to individuals convicted of minor crimes associated with drugs. Implement those immediately, keeping in mind that the only limitations are the delays in the process.
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