In early November a senate committee in Colombia passed a bill towards the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. There’s still some way to go before this might actually become a reality, but it’s one more step forward in Colombia on this issue. I find myself asking the question: “What would the marimberos of yesteryear think of all of this?”
“We look favorably on the initiative regarding the therapeutic and medical use of marijuana,” said President Juan Manuel Santos about a proposal by Liberal Party Senator Juan Manuel Galan to allow cannabis for medical use.
Senator Galan’s statement was no less provocative: “There is also a general consensus throughout the world that prohibition has failed.”
Who knows which way this will go, what political machinery will be played out and what the debate about marijuana may be used to hide in the news agenda? But, Colombia needs to progress and to do so the debate about illicit drugs, beginning with marijuana, needs to be kept alive.
I have played out the arguments before on this blog, and I will continue to do so not as some ruthless crusader, nor as cannabis-infused hippy, no, just to inform. In case you are interested, I do not smoke at all. I am simply a keen observer of the Colombian situation and these are my opinions.
So what more can I say? Take a stroll in the downtown Candelaria in Bogotá, head north another 50 blocks to Chapinero and then another 60 odd blocks to the barrio of Usaquen, wander the streets, browse the markets and wander the plazas and I guarantee you’ll pick up on the telltale oily scent of marijuana being smoked in each area. It’s not going away, there needs to be a more open debate.
So why not start with a mainstream acceptance of medical marijuana while relevant and significant studies are being done, not by those already in the know, but by more mainstream physicians without an agenda? A little online research shows that the first medical use of cannabis traces back five thousand years ago to a Chinese botanist who prescribed marijuana as a cure for malaria, beriberi, constipation, rheumatic pains, lack of concentration and for several female ailments.
There’s a kind of negative mystique to the drug in Colombia, and rightly so, it has been connected to the ills of the country. Just a brief chat with friends in my small town in Mompos and they will talk about knowing when a shipment of marijuana was being shipped down along the Magdalena River. How did they know? It was simple, whenever a boat would travel after dark; lights turned off and along the far bank to avoid drawing attention to itself it would be shipping marijuana up to the coast for exportation. These people were known as marimberos. The 1960s and 1970s were the boom years for this trade. Then came cocaine and a whole different dynamic.
And so, a huge media storm erupted around Senator Galan’s address to the senate. An even greater one blew up with the aforementioned senator offering coca tea to those in attendance, but fortunately neither the message nor the importance of the debate were lost in the stunt. The bill was passed by a vote of 13 to 2. Is Colombia ready for this? There are those who appear to think so, let the debate continue.