By Phillip Smith
In an August 24 ruling, the Colombian Supreme Court rejected a 2009 constitutional amendment re-criminalizing the possession of personal use amounts of illegal drugs. Prior to that amendment, pushed vigorously by then President Alvaro Uribe, the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use had been legal under a 1994 Constitutional Court decision.
Between the 1994 ruling the 2009 amendment, adults were allowed to legally possess up to 20 grams of marijuana, one gram of cocaine, and two grams of synthetic drugs. After Uribe's reform, people arrested with small amounts of illegal drugs faced prison sentences of 64 to 108 months.
The ruling overturning Uribe's amendment came in the case of Juan Carlos Vela Gomez, a teenager sentenced to five years in prison after being caught with 80 grams of marijuana. Although Vela Gomez carried more than the 20 gram personal use amount, the court still found that subjecting him to a lengthy prison sentence violated "personal freedoms."
The move is a welcome step and one in line with drug policy reforms in other Latin American countries, but as Insight Crime noted, Colombia still has some of the most repressive drug policies in the region. More than 12,000 were doing time for drug crimes in Colombian prisons at the end of 2009, up 3% over 2003, and most of them are believed to be low-level offenders, including drug couriers and coca-leaf pickers.
Colombia has received around $6 billion in US anti-drug assistance since the inauguration of Plan Colombia in the late 1990s.