Potted marijuana plants were on the streets during a demonstration supporting the legalization of marijuana in Medellin, Colombia, on May 2, 2015. Reuters

Lawmakers in Colombia, one of the world’s biggest drug producers and the backdrop of an often violent illegal drug trade, could debate legalizing marijuana this year, according to Colombia Reports. While legislators are already moving forward with considering legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, Sen. Roy Barreras from the southwestern city of Cali, once known as the most violent place in the country thanks to its warring drug gangs, hopes to get full marijuana legalization on the table.

“This is a complex issue because parents are anxious and worried, and believe their children will turn into potheads the next day, but I tell them with full conviction that if their children are not alcoholics today despite alcohol being legal,” Barreras told local media. He added that “prohibition,” not drugs, was fueling gang violence in Colombia.

“I believe we should open the door to free ourselves from this damned drug trafficking business that has done so much damage,” said Barreras. He said legalizing marijuana, not just for medical but also recreational purposes, could take the market out of the hands of local drug gangs and allow law enforcement to better confront the country’s long-standing drug problems.

Colombia has been the epicenter of a violent internal drug war for more than four decades. The country is home to some of the most organized drug trafficking cartels in the world and is known globally as one of the illegal drug market’s biggest suppliers of cocaine.

Colombia decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and cocaine for personal use in 2012, however it remains illegal to sell the drugs. Anyone caught with less than 20 grams of marijuana or one gram of cocaine may face physical or psychological treatment but cannot be prosecuted or detained, according to Drug Policy Alliance. Colombians are allowed to grow up to 20 cannabis plants for personal use.

The Senate approved a bill that would legalize medical cannabis in Colombia in November 2014. The law would give the government authority to regulate the medical marijuana market. Lawmakers are scheduled to take up the measure again this year when they return from summer recess.

President Juan Manual Santos has endorsed the idea of legalizing medical marijuana. He said the bill introduced last year was "a practical, compassionate measure to reduce the pain [and] anxiety of patients with terminal illnesses, but also a way of beginning to strip from the hands of criminals the role of intermediary between the patient and the substance that allows them to relieve their suffering.”

Argentina, Brazil and Chile were among the other countries in the region considering similar measures. Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana in December 2013.