Uruguay Legalizes Cannabis! (Almost)

Posted: December 11, 2013 in Cannabis, History, Politics, Religion, Science
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Hey readers, forgive the week or so off from posting, it was my birthday and life happened. I’m back now with more posts and some big news.

Uruguay is one step away from being the first country in the world to legalize cannabis. They’re just waiting for the President to sign it into law, which he is expected to do. Once he does Uruguay will be the first country in the world where cannabis is legal and regulated by the government. Unexpectedly, only 26% of Uruguayans actually supported the bill in a poll done after it was first introduced in the summer. I say it is unexpected given the context of struggle I am used to in the US, constantly fighting to gain an inch in the war to legalize cannabis. I imagine the situation in largely Catholic Uruguay to be rather different and perhaps that reflects the seemingly un-Democratic passage of the bill.

You may be thinking, “this isn’t news, pot is legal in Amsterdam and Portugal decriminalized all drugs.” First off, cannabis and ‘recreational mushrooms’ are 100% illegal in Amsterdam but tolerated through an official policy of decriminalization. Second, decriminalization is totally different than legalization. If a compound is legal there are laws on the books supporting the right to legally use it, usually in the form of regulations on its use or distribution. Cigarettes, alcohol, morphine, Oxycontin, Xanax, methamphetamine, St. John’s Wart, and fish oil are all legal; there are laws governing their creation, safety, sale, usage, and more. This allows even potentially dangerous compounds like methamphetamine to be used in relative safety to achieve therapeutic effects but not abusive highs. It also allows for taxation to take place, like with alcohol and cigarettes; this is impossible without full legalization as one cannot tax a grey or black market.

A decriminalized market is taxable in a situation like the Netherlands with storefronts selling a product, but Amsterdam is almost a de facto legalization. The main difference between decriminalized Amsterdam and a real legal market is a difference of opinion. Namely political opinion, which can shift spontaneously, and if it does it is a small matter to arrest those shop owners and their patrons; that could not happen nearly as easily in a fully legal market. Decriminalization, like what you have in the Netherlands, is not codified. There is no law on the books instructing police that a product is legal, merely a statement that the government will no longer arrest/fine people for the formerly prohibited conduct. Usually decriminalization focuses on personal possession only with no legal protection for growers and distributors. I fail to see how this semi-legal model can ever work as well as actual legalization, but Portugal found a way and managed to cut abuse rates in half. If a country were to pursue a policy of decriminalization it should be modeled on Portugal as the most functioning model.

Back to Uruguay and how that is big news. The UN and various other international regulatory bodies exist to enforce international law, including the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This Convention is the precursor to America’s 1970 Controlled Substances Act and establishes a similar regulatory framework for all UN member nations. Like any system with power the UNODC and its affiliates do not want to lose their power and have already sent a strongly worded letter to the US about Washington and Colorado; I am curious how they will deal with Uruguay. It would seem they plan to address it the same as with Washington and Colorado, a strongly worded letter, but maybe in time the UN will do more. Maybe in time they will impose sanctions on Uruguay for their bold decision to lead the way into a better future.

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Comments
  1. I’m not one to criticize, but you did state that fist oil is legal…hee hee!

  2. scottdrummer says:

    The main body for controlling narcotics (imaginatively titled the International Narcotics Control Board, or INCB), have already stated that Uruguay is in direct violation of UN narcotics treaties. INCB chief Raymond Yans has been quoted to state that he was “surprised [that the government in Montevideo] knowingly decided to break the universally agreed and internationally endorsed treaty.”

    Either way, as you said – this is big news. I’ve actually spoken about it on my own blog, though not in as much detail as you have, this is a good read.

    • Yup, the INCB is the mouthpiece for the drug branch of UNODC and they have certainly been vocal about Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington. Thankfully for the US, since we are a federal system, the federal government is still in compliance even though many of our states are not (including all medical cannabis states). Uruguay legalized cannabis federally and that means the country, who agreed to the 1961 Narcotic Convention, is in violation; not a state like Colorado who never agreed to anything. It will be really interesting to see how this showdown plays out and if the President actually signs it and tells the UN to piss off, or if he caves.

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