Uruguay in the international debate on drug policy

How does Uruguay positions itself in the international debate on drug policy? - Uruguay and INCB

In all the important international forums – the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, CICAD, UNASUR, MERCOSUR, the EU-LAC Co-operation Mechanism – Uruguay has maintained an unwavering position, arguing for the need and the democratic right to launch a debate that should lead to the current war on drugs model being consigned to the past. Uruguay has been a member of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs since 2008, and has been re-elected to serve until 2014. Uruguay’s prestige results from being one of the states that has campaigned most vigorously in political and diplomatic arenas for a close connection to be made between drug control and human rights, together with civil society participation, impartiality and equity in the so-called principle of mutual and shared responsibility, and avoiding the stigmatisation of certain countries.

Uruguay has played a major role in the last five sessions of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna. The Uruguayan delegation at the fifty-first session of the CND in 2008 presented the Resolution L.16 for full conformity of human rights instruments and international drug control treaties. The petition was co-sponsored by Argentina, Bolivia, Switzerland and the European Union. With its proposal, Uruguay wanted recognition in the international debate of the incorporation of human rights in drugs control, harm reduction – a concept that is unacceptable to some countries – and the urgent need for democratic debate. The draft resolution generated difficult negotiations and lost much of its strength in the final adopted version (51/12).

At the high-level segment of CND’s fifty-second session (2009), the Uruguayan delegation began with the premise of an integral approach so that policies for prevention and treatment at the world level balance those of supply reduction and that criminal policies include a criteria of proportionality so as not to criminalize consumers and to address the prison crises suffered by many countries. It defended the right to health and the inclusion of harm reduction as good practices and a way to focus on social inclusion. During its intervention at the fifty-third session in 2010, the Uruguayan delegation reiterated the principles raised in previous years and during the fifty-fourth session in 2011 specified that “We want to foster democratic debate, without hidden agendas or dogmatism, on the international control system and respect for human rights with a focus that is truly integral and properly balanced, which is a challenge we still face. This same year, Uruguay formed part of a group of countries supporting a resolution to increase the participation of civil society in the fight against the worldwide drug problem. In his presentation during the fifty-fifth session of the CND, Julio Calzada again focused on respect for human rights and recognition of the right of Andean peoples to the coca leaf.

In July 2009, then-President Tabaré Vázquez announced his intention to collaborate with Bolivia and the efforts of President Evo Morales’s government to change the way international drug control treaties deal with the coca leaf.

Uruguay expressed a favourable position on the need to debate a change in the model during the recent Summit of the Americas, held in Cartagena, Colombia in April 2012.

Uruguay’s decision to opt for a regulated domestic cannabis market has had a major media impact at the international level. The eyes of the world are looking at this small South American country with the audacity to break the taboo surrounding cannabis. The Uruguayan proposal could become the historic step that many stakeholders around the world have been waiting for regarding the standstill in drug policy. As President Mujica has said, “someone has to be first.” The Uruguayan decision to opt for a regulated domestic cannabis market has led to tensions with the UN drug control system. According to experts from WOLA and TNI, “INCB president Raymond Yans, of Belgium, wasted no time in denouncing Uruguay. At the UN General Assembly session in New York on June 26 … Yans also issued a thinly-veiled threat that Uruguay’s move toward regulated cannabis could jeopardize the country’s access to essential medicines. Such attacks are no doubt intended to isolate and stigmatize Uruguay and to discourage any other government from raising its voice on Uruguay’s behalf, or consider taking a similar path."

April 2013, First Working Meeting on Drugs, The Oriental Republic of Uruguay and the Republic of Colombia. On 18 and 19 April 2013 was held in Montevideo the first working meeting on drugs between the two countries. The Minutes of the meeting can be viewed here.

In his speech to the 43rd OAS General Assembly, 4-6 June 2013 in Guatemala, the head of the Uruguayan delegation reiterated the support of his country to a political dialogue about drugs, and referred particularly to cannabis reform in their country saying, "we have a historical and moral authority in the matter, in order to understand that in a sovereign way, our government has taken the initiative to responsibly regulate cannabis market ...".

Uruguay and INCB

Uruguay’s decision to opt for a regulated domestic cannabis market has had a major impact in the international media. The eyes of the world are watching this small South American country with the audacity to break the taboo surrounding cannabis. The Uruguayan proposal could become the historic step that many stakeholders around the world have been waiting for to end the impasse in drug policy. As President Mujica has said, "someone has to be first." Uruguay’s decision has led to tensions with the UN drug control system. According to experts from WOLA and TNI, "INCB president Raymond Yans, of Belgium, wasted no time in denouncing Uruguay. At the UN General Assembly session in New York on June 26 (…) Yans also issued a thinly-veiled threat that Uruguay’s move toward regulated cannabis could jeopardize the country’s access to essential medicines. Such attacks are no doubt intended to isolate and stigmatize Uruguay and to discourage any other government from raising its voice on Uruguay’s behalf, or consider taking a similar path."

On 19 November 2013, the INCB published this bulletin expressing its concern about Uruguay’s cannabis law.

Mr Yans’s attacks against Uruguay intensified in December 2013, following the announcement of the result of the Senate vote giving the green light to the law to regulate the domestic cannabis market. The INCB president described the legalisation of marijuana in Uruguay as "pirate attitudes". In response, Uruguay’s ambassador to the OAS, Milton Romani, said that "the position of the INCB president is not that of the organisation as a whole." President Mujica also reacted strongly to Mr Yans’s statements. For further information about the differences between the UN organisation and Uruguay, we recommend reading INCB vs Uruguay: the art of diplomacy.

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