HomeNewsAnalysisColombia Drug Possession Decree Misses Mark
ANALYSIS

Colombia Drug Possession Decree Misses Mark

COLOMBIA / 12 OCT 2018 BY ANNA GRACE EN

The seizure of more than 7 metric tons of drugs from users in nine days in Colombia after a decree effectively banning personal drug use has been heralded a success by authorities. However, questions remain as to whether targeting drug users will prove effective in tackling the root causes of Colombia’s drug problems.

An October 1 decree by Colombian President Iván Duque authorized police to confiscate and destroy any quantity of drugs found on a person, abolishing the Constitutional Court given right for users to carry small doses of drugs for personal use.

Under the decree, people found with less than 20 grams of marijuana, 1 gram of cocaine or 2 grams of synthetic drugs can be fined 208,000 Colombian pesos (almost $70), the equivalent of around one week’s minimum wage in Colombia.

Those found with more than the minimum dose can be detained and referred to judicial authorities. A court hearing would determine whether confiscated supplies correspond to personal possession or intent to sell.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

In the nine days after the decree was signed, authorities confiscated 7.2 metric tons of narcotics across Colombia, El Colombiano reported. Police also levied fines against 8,012 citizens and arrested 718 people.

“We are going to go after dealers on the street, and we are going to prosecute them,” President Duque announced at a press conference last week, stating that the decree would form an integral part of his new drug policy.

However, the decree has proved controversial. The Council of State will now decide whether to nullify the decree, after members of Congress launched an initiative to request the removal of the article allowing police to confiscate drug quantities below minimum dose. Congress members state the decree violates various aspects of the constitution and puts consumers at risk, El Tiempo reported.

InSight Crime Analysis

The effective ban on drug consumption indicates the beginning of President Duque’s move towards a more hardline, repressive drug policy of the kind that has traditionally had little success in Colombia. The decree is more likely to affect low-level users than combat rising consumption and microtrafficking.

Duque’s approach, which goes against growing international consensus towards more regulatory or preventative policies that focus on users' safety and lessen the dominance of criminal organizations, is likely to do little less than criminalize users.

His approach presents a number of practical problems.

Firstly, Colombia can hardly afford to increase its prison population.

Prisons across the country are operating at almost 50 percent overcapacity, with 36,452 more people currently awaiting sentence, according to El Espectador. Such figures indicate that neither the penitentiary nor the judicial systems have the capacity or resources to handle the increase in inmates that will result from President Duque’s new decree.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Prisons

Secondly, this punitive approach does not take into consideration the root causes of consumption and trafficking, without which tackling the problem is close to impossible.

“The decree will not help to reduce consumption, and could have the adverse effect with regards to distribution,” Professor Yesid Reyes Alvarado of the Externado University of Colombia told Semana. “Consumers are going to buy back every gram that is confiscated from them.”

According to the Colombian Drug Observatory (Observatorio de Drogas de Colombia - ODC), the focus must be on improving the living conditions and social integration of those affected by the local illicit drug market. The imprisonment of low-level offenders, recreational users and addicts can further isolate the subject and increase their susceptibility to involvement in criminal behavior.

At a time when Colombian criminal groups are increasingly stimulating drug markets within the local population, finding social solutions is perhaps more important than ever.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 19 JUL 2012

The FARC's claim to have shot down an air force plane in Cauca, one of Colombia’s most fiercely contested regions,…

COLOMBIA / 18 DEC 2014

An alleged high-ranking member of Colombia's most powerful criminal group, the Urabeños, was recently captured in Spain, which may be…

COLOMBIA / 2 FEB 2015

The Colombian port city of Buenaventura is once again on high alert after the discovery of clandestine graves and dismembered…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Apure Investigation Makes Headlines

22 OCT 2021

InSight Crime’s investigation into the battle for the Venezuelan border state of Apure resonated in both Colombian and Venezuelan media. A dozen outlets picked up the report, including Venezuela’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.