The 31st July 2013 is destined to be a very famous date in the drug law reform movement. It was on this day that Uruguay, the tiny South American country formally best known here for being the butt of Homer’s jokes in The Simpsons and the producers of controversial footballers, voted to legalise the production and distribution of cannabis.
It maybe shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that a country that has witnessed the devastation and bloodshed caused by the drug war in Columbia and Mexico, and which never actually banned the consumption of any drugs, is leading the way when it comes to legalisation.
The new law, which was approved by the lower house of Congress and is expected to pass through the Senate soon, will allow for large-scale as well as personal farming. It will also regulate the sale of cannabis by pharmacies, although some controversy surrounds this measure as the Government are insistent that anyone who purchases their cannabis in this way must have their names on a so-called ‘pot smokers register’.
This element of the legislation has caused a lot of debate and concern and is certainly not something that many cannabis smokers would actively campaign for. Naturally there is a level of opposition to this registration process, however many will see it as a necessary step to ending prohibition and regaining their right to produce and consume cannabis. Either way it is an ongoing issue which will be watched with interest by activists and Governments alike around the world.
A far less contentious part of Uruguay’s new laws allow for the creation of cannabis social clubs, similar to those that have been so successful on mainland Europe and are gaining more and more ground in the UK (Berkshire Cannabis Community held a smoke out/picnic yesterday in Reading and many more events are being planned as I type). These clubs will allow citizens to come together to grow more than the regular 6 plant limit, provided they are not selling what they grow.
Here at NORML UK we fully support Uruguay’s efforts to end the madness of the war on drugs and to wrestle back some control from the cartels that have been such a scourge on the region for decades. By legalising the production and supply of cannabis the Government of Uruguay has become the first to finally see sense and realise that this is a war that cannot be won, because it is being fought on the wrong grounds. Drugs policy should be about public health and scientific evidence, not ill-informed crusades and moralistic dreams of a ‘drug free world’ that cannot, and frankly should not, be achieved.
Of course all of this is at odds with the UN’s single convention on narcotic drugs, and has already attracted their attention and scorn. A statement from the International Narcotics Control Board issued just hours after the bill was voted on urged Uruguay to reconsider, and claimed that the bill could have ‘serious consequences for the health and welfare of the population and for the prevention of cannabis abuse among the youth’. Apparently the INCB need some education about the health benefits of cannabis, as well as the effect that decriminalisation/legalisation has had on the numbers of young smokers in The Netherlands, Portugal, Colorado, etc.
It is my hope that the UN will not try and intervene or impose sanctions against Uruguay for their decision to try a new tactic in drug policy. That is not their job. If handled correctly, this could herald the end of the expensive and pointless war on drugs. It will be impossible for other countries to ignore if and when Uruguay’s gamble is proven to be successful, along with the recent legalisation in Colorado and Washington. It is only a matter of time before more Governments come to understand the futility of the ‘war’ they are claiming to be fighting for our safety, and move towards more progressive and public health based drugs policy. The only question now is surely not if, but when.