Last Tuesday, Uruguayan’s Senate approved a bill in which the State will regulate the production and sale of marijuana and allow citizens to grow the plant at home.
The legislation was approved in a historic Senate vote of 16 to 13, and will allow pharmacies to sell up to 40 grams of cannabis a month to a list of registered consumers over 18 years old. According with the legislation, Uruguayan residents will be permitted to cultivate up to six plants of marijuana in their homes and up to 99 plants through government-authorized cannabis cultivation clubs.
A new state-run agency called the Instituto de Regulación y Control del Cannabis (The Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis—IRCCA) will be in charge of issuing licenses to consumers and controlling the production, distribution and trade of marijuana.
Uruguayan President José Mujica has defended the bill as a way to fight against violent drug-related crimes. "Someone has to start in South America," Mujica said in a 2012 interview with Brazil’s O Globo newspaper. "Somebody has to be first, because we are losing the battle against drugs and crime on the continent.”
International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) condemned Uruguay’s vote to legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana for those over the age of 18 yesterday. According to INCB President Raymond Yans, Uruguay has "knowingly decided to break the universally-agreed and internationally-endorsed treaty" with a decision that would endanger Uruguayan youth and "contribute to the earlier onset of addiction." Uruguay is a party to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which requires states to use marijuana only for medical and scientific purposes.
The reaction from the United Nations-affiliated INCB comes one day after the Uruguayan Senate passed a historic legalization bill. While The Netherlands, Canada, Israel, and the states of Colorado and Washington allow for legal medical or recreational use of marijuana, Uruguay will be the first country to also allow for the growth and trade of the substance.
President José Mujica, a former guerilla whose liberal-leaning government also approved bills to legalize abortions and same-sex marriage, has asserted that the legalization of marijuana will help to eradicate drug trafficking throughout the country and the violence associated with it. The country will set up a drug control board to regulate the marijuana industry in 120 days.
However, the legalization of marijuana is not without its restrictions. Under the new legislation, Uruguayan citizens who are 18 years or older will be permitted to keep up to six plants and produce no more than 480 grams of marijuana a year. Producers, vendors, and consumers will also be required to officially register with the government, who will monitor their usage. Tourists to Uruguay will not be permitted to produce or consume the substance.
Both domestic as well as external opinion is divided on the bill, but several Latin American leaders, including Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo have supported the legalization and regulation of marijuana.
Jamaican lawmakers debated a proposal on Tuesday to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Though no bill has been drafted, the preliminary discussion comes as a response to a motion introduced in January by lawmaker Raymond Pryce of the governing People’s National Party (PNP), who believes there is great economic and social potential in decriminalizing the drug.
Jamaicans have become increasingly opposed to the island’s drug policy, which results in the arrest of about 300 youth each week, limiting their future employability. “For personal use, the punishment of a criminal record is too much,” said Minister of State for Tourism and Entertainment Damion Crawford.
Government regulation and taxation could also be a boon for Jamaica’s struggling formal economy, with the promotion of marijuana-related tourism.
A 2001 government-appointed commission found that marijuana was “culturally entrenched” in Jamaican society and recommended legalization of recreational amounts. But given staunch opposition from the United States, such efforts were never realized. Now that several U.S. states—as well as Uruguay—have begun regulating marijuana use, Jamaican lawmakers feel emboldened to finally take on drug policy reform.
The Mexican government signaled this week that its approach to fighting drug trafficking in the region could change after voters in the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington decided to legalize the recreational use of marijuana on Tuesday.
A top aide for Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, who will take office in December, said Thursday that the passage of the two controversial voter referendums in the U.S.—Amendment 64 in Colorado and Initiative 502 in Washington—were potentially “game-changing.” Peña Nieto advisor Luis Vidagaray said the president-elect does not think that drug legalization will solve cartel violence in the region, but that Mexico’s drug strategies would now have to be revisited.
“Obviously we can’t handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United States, at least in part of the United States, it now has a different status,” Videgaray said.
About half of all marijuana consumed in the U.S. comes from Mexico, but it is not clear how much legalization of the drug in two U.S. states will impact the revenue of Mexican drug cartels. Eric Olson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, said that revenue from marijuana comprises about 20 percent of cartels’ total revenue. A 2010 study by the Rand Corporation said that drug cartels derive about 15 to 26 percent of their revenue from marijuana sales.
However, a different study, by the Mexican Competitiveness Institute, said that legalizing marijuana in just the state of Washington could cut drug cartel profits by $1.37 billion, or 23 percent.
Residents of Mexico City had mixed reactions to the news on Thursday. “What they do there, they do here, and for us that is a big problem,” said a Mexican woman interviewed by Univisión after the elections.
Another woman was less certain that legalization is a mistake. “I don’t know what the result will be, but I think it’s a path that we need to start looking at: the idea of legalizing certain drugs, certain things.”
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.