And while marijuana has been getting most of the attention in Bogotá’s drug initiative, it’s just part of the equation. Addicts will also be receiving counseling, job training, emergency shelter and other services that are already part of the city’s social safety net.
Colombia isn’t known for having liberal views on drugs. The world’s top cocaine producer, the nation has, with U.S. backing, been engaged in one of the most aggressive, bloody and expensive drug wars in the hemisphere.
But domestically, its laws can seem a bit more like Amsterdam. While smoking and selling weed are illegal, Colombians are allowed to carry small amounts of cocaine and marijuana — or what’s called a “personal dose” — and are also allowed to grow up to 20 marijuana plants for personal consumption.
There are also laws that allow marijuana and other drugs to be prescribed by doctors.
While the mechanics of growing and distributing the medical marijuana for the city’s project haven’t all been worked out, Ramirez said one idea is to create a type of match-making service, where “personal dose” home-growers provide portions of their harvest to help bazuco addicts. But the city cannot legally hand out marijuana.
Camilo Borrero is one of the driving forces behind the program and perhaps its best advertisement. Now 40, Borrero said he grew up in a family full of addicts. By the age of five, he’d had his first drink, by seven he’d smoked pot, and by 12 he was using cocaine regularly. He managed to clean up for a few years until he accidentally smoked bazuco believing it was marijuana. Within two years, he went from being a university student with his own business to living on the streets and wandering the city looking for his next fix.
In 1999, he hit bottom and decided to kick the habit. He said he cycled through almost 20 drug-treatment programs, clinics and psychiatrists but never managed to give up bazuco for more than three months. Desperate for a solution, he recalled that in his younger years he’d kicked cocaine by smoking pot. He tried the therapy again and it worked, he said. He’s been off bazuco for three and a half years, and he gives credit to his carefully regimented marijuana consumption.
“When I cured myself, I said ‘I have to share this with everyone,’” he said. “My life began three and a half years ago.”
Borrero’s company, Cannamedic, grows medical-quality marijuana to make pomades and oils for arthritis, among other products. Cannamedic will also be one of the cannabis growers for the city’s program.
Quintero, with the Acción Técnica non-profit, said the first phase of the project needs to be successful to silence the critics. He has a tattoo running down his right arm that reads: “Nice people take drugs.” It’s his answer to those who criticize the initiative on moral and ethical grounds.
“For us,” he said, “there’s nothing more ethical than offering someone a solution who has never been able to find one before.”