Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday (December 22) signed a decree that legalizes medical marijuana, a move he says does not weaken the government's fight against illicit crops and drug trafficking.
Santos said the decree allows for the therapeutic use of marijuana.
"This decree allows for the issuing of licenses for the possession of marijuana seeds and for the cultivation of the plant for exclusively medical and scientific purposes, I repeat, for exclusively medical and scientific purposes. We want to promote the research and production of medicines made from cannabis, marijuana, as we do with any natural element that can alleviate illnesses and pain," he said.
Studies show marijuana can help treat pain and nausea and offers relief for sufferers of epilepsy and other conditions.
Growing, distributing and selling cannabis remain illegal. The South American country suspended spraying of illicit crops this year, citing cancer concerns related to the herbicide glyphosate.
"To allow for the medicinal use of cannabis isn't a move in the wrong direction, it doesn't go against our international commitments to control drugs, or against our policy of fighting drug trafficking," Santos told reporters after signing the decree.
Current law allows possession of up to 20 grams (20 ml) of marijuana or 20 marijuana plants for personal use. A recent study showed 11.5 percent of Colombians have used marijuana at least once.
The government said some companies, including foreign ones, are interested in producing and selling cannabis. However, there are no plans to fully legalize marijuana for recreational consumption or commercial sale, unlike in Uruguay, which fully legalized it in 2013.
Colombia, long a hub for narcotics production and trafficking, was once home to large marijuana cultivations. Much of the crop was smuggled to the United States before drug cartels began producing the more profitable cocaine.
Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Israel and some US states already allow medical cannabis use.