Friday, August 15, 2014

Colombia’s Santos Backs Medical Marijuana

It’s possible that this author spoke to soon about Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ stance on drug policy reform.

Yesterday, at a Bogota forum on drug policy sponsored by the Corporacion Escuela Galan and Semana magazine, the president endorsed the legalization of marijuana for medicinal and therapeutic use.

This is significant for two reasons. First, it marks a shift in Santos’ public position on drugs. While he has become known as a proponent of reassessing the drug war, and his government has embraced the Constitutional Court’s 2011 decriminalization of minimal amounts of illicit substances, Santos has consistently stopped short of anything resembling legalization. As recently as April, he told Fusion’s Manuel Rueda that drug legalization could not be done unilaterally, saying it “is a matter that must be taken up by many countries, not by a single country alone.”

Secondly, it comes one month after Liberal Party heavyweight Senator Juan Manuel Galan presented a bill that would legalize medicinal marijuana in Colombia. And it appears Santos’ support for the bill -- he described it as a “compassionate measure” to benefit the terminally ill as well as a blow to drug trafficking -- has given it mainstream credibility. According to El Espectador, the congressional spokesman for the Conservative Party announced yesterday that his party would support the initiative as well, saying it would be “unjust” to do otherwise.

Senator Galan has told the AFP that lawmakers are set to begin debating the medical marijuana bill in September.  Yet for all its apparent political support, it is worth noting that the measure’s specifics are unclear. There has been little reporting on the details of the bill in the press, and Galan has said only that it would require the government to ensure that patients can obtain regulated medical cannabis, and that officials would have to determine the proper methods of access to the drug.

News Briefs
  • Today marks one year since Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa announced that his government would open up the Yasuni Amazon reserve to oil drilling. El Comercio reports that, ever since the government abandoned its plan to seek international donations to offset the opportunity cost of not drilling, it has had difficulty tracking down and refunding small-scale donors to the initiative.
  • In an op-ed for the New York Times, historian Enrique Krauze argues that the Israeli military operation in Gaza has exposed the risk of rising anti-Semitism in the region on social media sites and from the left in Latin America. But it’s worth noting that while Krauze goes on to provide historical evidence of anti-Semitic political currents in Mexico and Argentina, he does not elaborate or give any examples of anti-Semitism in Latin America social media use today, nor of what he calls “anti-Semitism of the left.” Indeed, Krauze specifically asserts that the only regional development he mentions -- the condemnation of the Gaza operation from various Latin American governments -- “ is not anti-Semitic.”
  • Uruguay’s El Pais has good news for the campaign against a ballot initiative to lower the country’s age of criminal responsibility to 16. According to a new Cifra poll cited by the paper, support for the measure has fallen to just 50 percent -- down from 64 percent in 2012 -- with Cifra noting that support has dropped even among voters of the conservative National and Colorado parties.
  • One day before a delegation of Colombian conflict victims is set to join the peace talks in Havana, an analysis by La Silla Vacia looks at the widespread discontent  with this process among victims’ groups, many of which say they do not feel represented.
  • While Brazilian media has not ceased its speculation over the political ramifications of Eduardo Campos’ death -- O Globo today claims that the PT is pressuring members of Campos’ PSB to support Dilma’s campaign in states where the two parties are allied -- the head of Campos’ party has asserted that it will not begin discussing the late candidate’s replacement until after his funeral.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on the struggle that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will face in implementing the reforms he has passed since taking office. His success in cementing the changes, according to the paper, could determine whether Mexico’s public “wants to continue the country's 30-year experiment with free markets or embrace the populists that have risen to power in other Latin American nations.”
  • BBC Mundo also looks at Peña Nieto’s reform drive, noting that the recent move to open up the state monopoly over the energy sector could pit the president against PEMEX union boss Carlos Romero Deschamps in a similar manner as his well-publicized battle against the powerful teachers’ union leader Elba Esther Gordillo.
  • UN peacekeeping forces in Haiti clashed with supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide outside his home yesterday amid reports that he would be arrested for failing to appear in court Wednesday. As the AP reports, Aristide had been ordered to appear to testify in a case involving money laundering, though the summons provided no other details. According to the BBC, Aristide’s lawyers are insisting that he never received the summons.
  • Providing a counterbalance to recent reports of how Haiti’s recent prison break illustrates the flaws of its judicial system and law enforcement forces, the Miami Herald reports that the arrest of fugitive kingpin Clifford Brandt was the result of successful police work.