By Greg de Hoedt
After months of anticipation Uruguay becomes the first nation to disobey international drug treaties, allowing citizens to grow, buy and sell cannabis.
18 months ago a bill was put forward in an attempt to curb the power of and fight against the criminal organisations that make multi-million dollar profits every year from marijuana trafficking. Uruguay is a small country with a population of just over 3 million. Head of the National Drug Agency, Julio Calzada said, “Last year, 82 people were killed in drug-related violence in Uruguay. We are starting to see episodes of criminal score-settling, groups of hitmen … but we are not aware of anybody who died because of marijuana consumption.”
The law will allow residents only to register in the program and grow up to six plants for personal use, register with a pharmacy for medicinal use or join a cannabis social club with up to 45 members which can grow 99 plants – based on the model currently used in Spain where it originated. Once registered as an adult over the age of 18 you will be able to purchase up to 40g of cannabis per month. President Mujica said “this is about enough that will stop you staring at your belly button all day”.
“This won’t be a weed-for-all country” he adds, assuring critics of the new legislation. Tourists will not be able to register in the programs. Consumption has been tolerated in public for many years but the sale and cultivation has remained illegal until now.
“What I am doing is offering consumers a legal amount” President Mujica explains. “We are asking the world to help us with this experience, which will allow the adoption of a social and political experiment to face a serious problem – drug trafficking,” he said earlier this month. “The effects of drug trafficking are worse than those of the drugs themselves.”
The move has sparked a global discussion as Uruguay is the first country that has put a bill forward and had it pass winning 16 votes to 13 in The House of Representatives on December 10th 2013.
Clark French “The fact that a small country has taken measures to end cannabis prohibition is a huge leap forward. The UK could learn a lesson or two from the courage of Uruguayan politicians in standing up and making an active change which is to be applauded. With legalisation many medical patients in Uruguay are now able to get safe access to cannabis without being criminalised, and that can only be a good thing”
The campaign was supported by a coalition of activists with LGBT, women’s rights, health, student, environmental and human rights organizations joining forces with trade unions, doctors, musicians, lawyers, athletes, writers, actors and academics under the name “Responsible Regulation” (Regulación Responsible).
“Norml UK recognises the brave steps taken by Uruguay to help end the war on drugs with its current stance and regulation of the cannabis industry within it’s borders.” Said Stuart Harper spokesperson for NORML UK.
“It is our hope that this example will be studied and examined by the Home Office as an example of a rational and progressive policy regarding reducing both the harms from other drug use, and continued cannabis prohibition. The stand they have taken for individual human liberties and personal choice should be lauded and emulated within the UK and EU”
Legal sales will most likely not commence until April when the first legal harvest is due and the licensing system will have been developed by this stage. Julio Bango, a politician who helped to draft the bill, added “We know this has generated an international debate and we hope it brings another element to discussions about a model [the war on drugs] that has totally failed and that has generated the opposite results from what it set out to achieve.”
This is a development I’m really excited about. Uruguay taking the move to be the first nation to legalise and regulate cannabis is a huge deal. Not only have we seen the citizens of Colorado and Washington vote for regulation for safe adult access, toppling US drug laws from within, but Uruguay is the first place where a bill has been put forward by the Government – even though most of the public were against the idea.
It is also pleasing to see the inclusion of the Cannabis Social Club model, now on three continents and officially implemented by a national government, it can only strengthen our argument that this is a step in the right direction. The UK would be wise to follow suit.
The lowest estimate of regular cannabis consumers in the United Kingdom is 2 million. It is the most widely used illicit drug and 200,000 young people a year get a criminal record for some kind of illicit drug possession.
“Allowing organised crime gangs to profit under prohibition in the UK and charge 20x the price it is going to be available for under regulated CSCs in Uruguay is criminal and it is damaging our communities” added Greg, who believes we will see an increase in the number of cannabis clubs starting in 2014 now that people are seeing that this is really happening.
In the US the Federal Government has said they will not interfere with State regulation of marijuana with a set of provisions, one being that the sale to minors (under 21) is to be strictly controlled and prohibited. Washington and Colorado will of course have different takes on regulation to Uruguay. In Colorado adults will be able to grow a small number of plants at home and purchase up to an ounce of herb at a time but public consumption is still an offence. Existing medical marijuana laws will not be effected by this.
Deej Sullivan, Membership Secretary for NORML UK and South West Regional Admin for the UKCSC’s said – “Uruguay’s decision to legalise and regulate cannabis sales at a Governmental level is a huge leap forward in the fight for more sane and evidence based drug policy worldwide. This move has already sparked a huge amount of debate at the UN which will, we hope, force world leaders to accept that there are alternatives to the ‘war on drugs’.”
“Alternatives which can, and will, be far more effective at combatting the devastation caused by cartel violence and drug trafficking. It is particularly encouraging to see that the cannabis social club model is to be implemented in Uruguay, maybe now the British Government will finally listen to the words of its former Drugs Czar Professor David Nutt, who called the UKCSC’s ‘A rational approach to an irrational law.’ It is high time our elected representatives looked seriously at this issue; maybe one country finally making the leap will give them the impetus to make a real change in this country.”