Law, drug consumption and treatment

Drugs and Decmocracy in Uruguay
01 January 2010

What is the legislation about personal consumption and treatment of drug users in Uruguay?

Uruguayan law permits the use of any substance and does not criminalise possession for personal use. However, apart from cannabis, where Law 17.192 has established the maximum amount someone can keep for personal use at 40 grammes, permitted quantities have not been specified for other substances, and the matter is left to the judge’s discretion. Neither does the law stipulate legal ways to obtain drugs. The exception to this is cannabis, which can be obtained by growing one’s own, by buying it from pharmacies and the Ministry of Health, and by being a member of a cannabis club.

The Uruguayan Senate recently approved a bill that defines how the state will respond to crisis situations in cases of problem drug use. On 23 December 2013, the Senate approved the “Public health consortium to provide immediate care for people affected by problem drug use in a crisis situation” act. Among other provisions, this law mandates compulsory treatment for “problem drug users in crisis situations who pose a risk to themselves or to others”. The draft law was debated in parliament for a year and a half, during which time it underwent several modifications.

The initial proposal from the president’s office was to apply a compulsory treatment order to anyone found to be under the influence of drugs in a public place. Compulsory treatment is a sensitive matter because of the risk of infringing human rights. It is therefore essential to provide safeguards for the individuals subjected to these measures to prevent any risk of abuse. The new law revokes Article 40 of Law 14.294 from 1974, which states:

“Anyone caught consuming narcotic substances or using psychoactive drugs improperly, or apprehended in circumstances that suggest that they have just done so while carrying narcotics for their personal use, must be brought before the sitting examining magistrates’ court so that it may order an examination of the arrested person by a doctor from the National Anti-Drug Addiction Commission and an expert in forensic medicine, who must produce their report within twenty-four hours. If the examination finds that the person is a drug addict, the judge shall order the person to undergo treatment in a public or private establishment or as an out-patient, providing that such treatment includes the medical check-ups established by the said National Commission.”

The Senate approval of this bill has met with criticism from various civil society organisations concerned with human rights. They are calling for the text of the law to be made more precise, as well as clarity about the process and more specific information about how drug users’ rights will be safeguarded. The bill must now be discussed and approved in the House of Representatives.

Drugs and democracy in Uruguay overview
Current drug laws
Trends in drug matters
Reform proposals and reforms to drug laws
Impact of drug laws on prison situation
Law, drug consumption and treatment
International debate on drug policy
Civil society in the debate on drugs
Drug laws and policy documents