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Colombia's Santos says backs marijuana use for medical purposes

By Luis Jaime Acosta

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos said on Thursday he supported the use of marijuana for medical use as a means to ease the suffering of terminally ill patients and deprive criminals of profits from the illegal trade in the drug.

The battle against drugs has failed because of its high cost in human lives and economic impact for countries like Colombia and Mexico, calling for an alternative expert-led and evidence-based approach, Santos told a forum on illegal drugs in Bogota.

"We look favorably upon your initiative over medicinal and therapeutic use of marijuana," said Santos, referring to a congressional bill by Liberal party Senator Juan Manuel Galan to legalize it. Santos began his second four-year mandate on Aug. 7.

The president said Galan's bill was a compassionate measure for the terminally ill but also as a way to "remove criminals from being the intermediary between the patient and a substance that will ease their suffering."

In April, Uruguay legalized marijuana at every stage from production to consumption. In the United States, Washington and Colorado have legalized sales under license of marijuana though federal laws prohibit it.

Colombia was a significant world producer of marijuana in the 1970s before its cultivation was displaced by coca leaves to produce cocaine, a drug whose trafficking and trading the government says is a key source of funding for the country's leftist guerrilla movements.

Much of Colombia's cocaine is trafficked into the United States, which has tried to combat the drug by funding and implementing aerial crop spraying to wipe out coca plantations.

(Writing by Peter Murphy; Editing by Richard Chang)

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