New drug bill 'to decriminalise ecstasy' in Colombia

The BBC's David Cuen explains some of the issues surrounding drugs law in Latin America

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Colombia's Justice Minister, Ruth Stella Correa, has said a new drugs bill would decriminalise personal use of synthetic drugs, such as ecstasy.

The proposal would replace current laws, which ban cocaine and marijuana, although people are not prosecuted for possessing small amounts.

Colombia's legislation is being re-assessed in an attempt to tackle drug use, trafficking and related issues.

Critics say the inclusion of synthetic drugs will only confuse the debate.

The justice minister spoke after a meeting with the commission set up to assess the government's drug policies over the last 10 years.

Former President Cesar Gaviria is part of the group along a number of experts and academics expected to produce a document with recommendations within eight months.

Ruth Stella Correa pointed out that the Constitutional Court had already spoken against the criminalisation of people carrying small amounts of marijuana and cocaine.

"The new statute to be presented to the Congress during this mandate intends to make this authorisation concrete, but broadening it to include synthetic drugs into what is defined as the personal dose", the minister told Colombia's National Radio.

'End of business'

A spokesman for the country's Green Party has expressed support for the government's plan.

"The problem in Colombia is a problem with soft drugs: marijuana and cocaine. The curse of drug trafficking depends fundamentally on cocaine and the decriminalisation in the world will end this business," senator Roy Barreras told Caracol Radio station.

However, critics say that decriminalising the personal use of synthetic drugs will only make the debate more difficult.

Experts agree that synthetic drugs include ecstasy and methamphetamines, but some argue the definition could be applied to heroin.

The justice minister's announcement reopened the discussion about drug use in Colombia.

Until recently, the country adopted a more repressive approach to drug use, with laws that penalised the possession and consumption of drugs.

However, a string of decisions by the High Court in the last two years is said to be reversing the trend.

The new drug bill is expected to be put forward to the Colombian Congress in the next few months.

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