Colombia, a country once known as the home of the world's four major drug trafficking cartels, is now set to legalize the therapeutic use of marijuana under a presidential decree.

President Juan Manuel Santos said the move would be a precursor to a law that will regulate the details of marijuana distribution in the country, Reuters reported. Colombia earlier this year already suspended the spraying of illicit crops, but growing, distributing and selling cannabis remains illegal.

Colombian Justice Minister Justice Yesid Reyes also cautioned the decree would not do away with such limitations on the production and use of cannabis, according to El País.

Still, thanks to its new policy, Colombia is bound to join other Latin American countries -- including Mexico, Chile and Uruguay -- already experimenting with legalization or decriminalization as part of a marked change of attitudes toward drug use and drug policies across the entire continent, The Associated Press reported.

Colombian citizens are already allowed to possess small quantities of any narcotic for personal use because of a series of Constitutional Court rulings that guarantee the "free development of one's personality."

But Santos' initiative seems to make a change in attitude, as officials had long tried to avoid being seen as weak on drugs, in part because Colombia continues to be the biggest supplier of cocaine to the United States.

"This topic only has to do with medicinal and scientific uses of marijuana," Reyes said. "No one is talking about legalizing anything that does not have to do with these purposes."

The president, meanwhile, is acting on a proposal by Colombian Sen. Juan Manuel Galán Pachón, who last year introduced legislation similar to Santos' decree.

Galán pointed out as many as 400,000 citizens suffering from epilepsy and other ailments can be treated with medical marijuana, and these individuals could benefit from the clearer regulatory framework to be provided by the decree.