Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos has signed a decree that allows the use, sale and export of medical marijuana. He said the move would not weaken Bogota's fight against the illegal drug trade.
The new legislation presents an opportunity to promote scientific research in Colombia, Santos said in a televised address on Tuesday.
"Our goal is for patients to be able to access medications made in Colombia that are safe, high-quality and accessible," the president added.
Colombians are already allowed to posses small quantities of any narcotic for personal use, with the Constitutional Court guaranteeing the "free development of one's personality." However, the nation's congress and government have been hesitant to support the court's perspective on recreational use.
Treatment for epilepsy
The use of medical marijuana fell into a legal gray area after the authorities technically legalized it in 1986, but failed to provide a legal framework for its production and use.
"The manufacture, export, sale, and medical and scientific use of this and other substances have been permitted for several decades in Colombia. However, they were never regulated. That is what we are doing today," Santos said.
The proponents of medical marijuana claim that up to 400,000 Colombian citizens can use cannabis products to treat symptoms of epilepsy and other illnesses.
The Tuesday decree does not apply to recreational marijuana use, according to the Colombian president.
Unending drug wars
The South American country was once a major producer of marijuana for the American market, before drug dealers switched to the more profitable cocaine.
The rise of the drug cartels sparked decades of violence in Colombia, with drug money fueling the war with the leftist militants that has killed over 220,000 people.
Bogota also received billions in US funding to combat narcotic smuggling.
"Allowing the use of marijuana does not go against our international commitments to control drugs or against our policy of fighting drug trafficking," Santos told reporters after signing the decree.
The country remains the biggest cocaine supplier to the US.
dj/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)