Juan Manuel Santos
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has legalised the medical use of marijuana GUILLERMO LEGARIA/AFP/Getty Images

President Juan Manuel Santos has signed into Colombian law a measure legalising and regulating the medicinal use of marijuana. The decree signed on Tuesday 22 December makes it fully legal to grow, process, import and export cannabis and its derivatives for medical and scientific use.

In 1986 a law was passed allowing for the manufacture, export, sale and medical and scientific use of marijuana but the legislation was never formally regulated leaving Colombians in legal limbo. The president, himself admitted to smoking cannabis to reporters last year whilst he was studying in Kansas in the 1970s.

The new regulations would mean that anyone wanting to grow cannabis must now apply to the National Narcotics Council for a licence. Marijuana is used for various ailments including Crohn's disease, seizures, HIV, epilepsy and nausea.

Santos, affirmed this would not affect the country targeting the producers of illegal drugs like cocaine. But it would seem the 64-year-old has adopted a softer approach on drug production in the South American country after he announced he would not spray herbicide on coca fields from aircraft above and would instead offer farmers more land instead of growing the illicit crop.

"We have just taken an important step to place Colombia in the vanguard of the fight against disease and we're doing it via a decree that seeks to take advantage of the benefits of cannabis to improve people's lives," Santos said during a ceremony where he was accompanied by Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria according to Fox News.

He added: "Let's be clear, allowing the medicinal use of cannabis doesn't go against our international commitment regarding the control of drugs and, even less so, against our policy of fighting drug trafficking."

A number of Latin American countries have decriminalised or legalised marijuana recently as have Colorado, Oregon and Washington in the US. Uruguay under former president Jose Mujica fully legalised the production, sale and recreational use of marijuana in 2013.

Chile's National Congress is currently considering a bill to legalise cannabis, and Mexico will open a "national debate" in January 2016 intending to discuss its marijuana laws. Colombia may now profit from the legal export of marijuana.