The Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law (CEDD)
09 July 2014
The Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law (Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derecho, CEDD) has published a new study that assesses state responses to illicitly-used drugs in eight countries in Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay. The study found that Latin American governments’ approach to drug use continues to be predominantly through the criminal justice system, not health institutions. Even in countries where consumption is not a crime, persistent criminalization of drug users is common.
The Uruguayan government has made a controversial move to regulate the production and sale of cannabis, believing that this will help in the fight against drug-related crime and in dealing with public health issues. The move has been condemned by the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), whose president Raymond Yans accused the government of having a "pirate attitude" for going against the UN’s conventions on drugs. Diego Cánepa, secretary of the office of Uruguayan President, believes a regulated marijuana market was the right decision.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has launched a counter-offensive against moves to liberalise drug laws around the world, warning that cannabis legalisation poses a grave danger to public health.
In December 2013 we had undoubtedly the biggest news of the last few decades concerning drug policy: Uruguay became the first country in the world to adopt a law regulating the production, sale and consumption of cannabis throughout the national territory. Amidst heated debate, the project was approved on July 31, 2013 by the Chamber of Deputies, and on December 10, 2013 by the Senate. A few days later President José Mujica formally enacted the law that will regulate the cannabis market.
If you actually read the treaties, while they do set firm limitations on the legal, "non-medical" or "non-scientific" sale of schedule drugs — limits that Uruguay, Colorado and Washington ignored when legalizing cannabis — they don’t otherwise obligate countries to penalize drug use. Even the 1988 convention, the harshest of the three, which instructs countries to criminalize use, still provides an out for states, allowing such laws only as they are "subject to its constitutional principles and the basic concepts of its legal system." This loophole has been used by the Dutch to argue legally for their coffee shops.
UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) unprecedented condemnation of the use of death penalty for drug-related offences is welcome if long overdue. The bigger question is whether INCB’s consideration of human rights can be extended into a proper human rights and evidence-based examination of UN’s entire drug control regime.
Latin America is now at the vanguard of international efforts to promote drug policy reform: Bolivia has rewritten its constitution to recognize the right to use the coca leaf for traditional and legal purposes, Uruguay has become the first nation in the world to adopt a legal, regulated Cannabis market, and Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Ecuador are openly critiquing the prevailing international drug control paradigm at the UN. And now with the United States itself relaxing its marijuana laws state by state, the U.S. prohibitionist drug war strategies are losing credibility in the region.
The 43-year-old war on drugs had never seen such a barrage of opposition as it did in 2014, with successful marijuana legalization initiatives in several U.S. states, California’s historic approval of sentencing reform for low level drug offenders and world leaders calling for the legal regulation of all drugs — all of which cement the mainstream appeal of drug policy alternatives and offer unprecedented momentum going into 2015.
Legalisation of cannabis is making slow but unstoppable progress across much of the developed world, many experts believe, following the end of prohibition in two US states. In Amsterdam, long famous for its coffee shops, international experts gathering to discuss cannabis regulation said the international conventions, once so heavily policed by the US, would now be increasingly flouted. Already many countries, most notably the Netherlands and Spain, have bypassed the rules.
Cannabis is the world’s most widely used illicit drug. But for how much longer? In a short space of time we have moved from absolute global prohibition of the drug, with the emergence of legalised and regulated production and retail not in just one nation (Uruguay) but also, surprisingly, in two US states (Colorado and Washington). Do these and other new permissive models in Spain and Belgium, for example, point to a tipping point in the debate? Could cannabis step out of the shadows and join the ranks of alcohol and tobacco, the world’s most popular legal and regulated drugs?
Last week, NBC’s Today Show giddily announced an exclusive: Privateer Holdings, the Seattle marijuana company long acclaimed locally for its straight, corporate image and Ivy-League-educated bosses, was launching “the first global pot brand” based on the legacy of Bob Marley. The company is likely to start selling pot overseas, says Privateer public-relations director Zack Hutson, previously a spokesperson for Starbucks. “We’re in discussions with a distributor in Israel” – a country with a federally legal medical-marijuana system. Hutson also cites Uruguay and the Netherlands as potential early markets.
The war on cannabis seems to be slowly burning out. On June 12th Jamaica announced that it plans to decriminalise possession of small amounts of the drug. Several countries, including Mexico and Portugal, have already taken this step, and many others are considering it. A handful of other jurisdictions—so far only Uruguay and the states of Colorado and Washington—have taken a different approach, not decriminalising but instead legalising cannabis. Many people mistakenly use the terms “legalisation” and “decriminalisation” interchangeably. What is the difference?
The Uruguayan government has unveiled long-awaited regulations for its recreational marijuana market — a move that steers the tiny nation of 3.3 million people away from the prohibitionist war on drugs, with its disastrous consequences in Latin America, and toward a drug policy based on improving public health and security. Although Uruguay’s Congress approved the measure in December — becoming the first country in the world to legalize recreational pot use — it was just this week that the government of President José Mujica announced all the details.
Le groupe de réflexion Terra Nova, proche du PS, a publié un rapport, révélé par Le Monde, intitulé «Cannabis : réguler le marché pour sortir de l’impasse». Il y met en pièces la politique actuelle, «l’une des pires qui se puisse imaginer», et construit des scénarios pour en sortir, notamment une légalisation avec monopole d’Etat qui pourrait avoir un impact budgétaire positif de 1,8 milliard d’euros. Scénarios critiquables, mais qui ont le mérite de parler de la réalité.
In December, Uruguay became the first nation in the world to legislate for the production, sale and state regulation of marijuana. Many hope that when the law takes full effect next year, fewer people will use a cheap, highly addictive cocaine derivative called "pasta base". By allowing adults to grow their own cannabis or buy a maximum of 40g a month from a pharmacy, supporters of the new law believe it will separate the marijuana market from more problematic drugs.
Uruguay's drug czar says every legal marijuana plant in Uruguay will be registered and tracked using radio frequency tags, and that state-grown marijuana will be cloned to include genetic markers, making sure that what's grown here, stays here. That's a much tougher tracking system than those imposed in Colorado and Washington. Uruguay wants authorities to be able to test the pot in any drug user's possession to determine if it came from a registered, legal source.
In Uruguay, licensed cannabis clubs of up to 45 members will be allowed to grow a maximum of 99 plants each year. In August, growing up to six plants of cannabis at home became legal. Each club member can produce no more than 480g of cannabis each year and the club's growing fields cannot be within 150m of a school, college or a drug rehabilitation centre. Legalising cannabis has been a sensitive issue in Uruguay, where voters will be going to the polls in a second round of presidential elections on 30 November. Both presidential candidates have said they will tinker with the new laws if elected.
Julio Calzada is the top drug official in the little nation of Uruguay, which has gained notoriety over the last year for becoming the first country to legalize the cultivation, sale and consumption of marijuana. Calzada, whose party faces a tough re-election battle on Oct. 26, sat down with GlobalPost to discuss Uruguay’s unparalleled legalization experiment. In doing so, the national drug agency’s secretary-general unleashed a few bombshells. Here are the five most interesting things he said.
In December 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize the production and sale of marijuana. But this pioneering decision is presenting a number of challenges when it comes to implementation. The new law states that cannabis can be grown at home, acquired with a prescription at a pharmacy for registered users, or bought through cannabis clubs. While marijuana production is on the rise, the government has yet to put any of these legal frameworks in place. Meanwhile, home-growing is on the rise in anticipation of the final measures being introduced.