Uruguay’s experiment with legal domestic cannabis cultivation is about to enter a new phase, marking a key opportunity for the country to demonstrate what an effective enforcement model for the law will look like in the future.
The history of 4/20 is somewhat hazy, but it is widely thought to be the work of a group of teenagers who in 1971 made a pact to find an abandoned cannabis crop near their homes in San Rafael, Calif., and designating 4:20 p.m. as their meeting time. The number has since taken on a mythical quality, inspiring pot enthusiasts to stage an annual day of celebratory cannabis consumption. With 4/20 revelers expected to hold smoke-filled demonstrations across the country and around the globe, here’s a round-up of what world leaders and media commentators have said about the drug legalization issue in recent days.
Uruguay's proposal to legalize marijuana sales – and make its government the sole seller – reflects a growing worldwide urge to find new and less violent solutions to an old but more deadly drug war. The U.S. – which has emphatically rejected Latin America’s increasing call for marijuana legalization – is no doubt irked by Mujica’s move, especially since his bill also calls on the international community to consider marijuana legalization. So, probably, is the U.N.’s International Narcotics Control Board, which doesn’t even think Bolivians should be allowed to grow and chew coca leaves for traditional uses. But the U.S. and U.N. mindset on drug legalization is hardly as dominant as it was just a few years ago. The world seems fed up with the status quo.
Nearly a year after Colorado and Washington State voted to become the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, the detailed rules governing how pot will be grown, sold and taxed are finally complete. And as the two states implement their different approaches, the whole world is watching. This week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced a new panel, headed by California Lieut. Governor Gavin Newsom, to draft a possible 2016 ballot measure to legalize pot in California.
For the first time, the General Social Survey – a large, national survey conducted every two years and widely considered to represent the gold standard for public opinion research – shows a majority of Americans favoring the legalization of marijuana.
With other states already starting to allow the legal use of marijuana, Maine needs to get ahead of the issue and legalize, regulate and tax the sale of the drug, lawmakers were told. LD 1229, the Act to Tax and Regulate Marijuana, was introduced by State Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland). "This issue is coming to our state," Russell told the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee as it took up the bill she sponsored. It has 35 co-sponsors in the 186-member Legislature.
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?
Voters in Colorado and Washington state who approved the recreational use of marijuana Tuesday sent a salvo from the ballot box that will ricochet around Latin America, a region that's faced decades of bloodshed from the U.S.-led war on drugs. Experts said the moves were likely to give momentum to countries such as Uruguay that are marching toward legalization, to undercut Mexican criminal gangs and to embolden those who demand greater debate about how to combat illegal substances.
The world-wide debate over cannabis reform appears to be gaining uncommon speed and unexpectedly it is in Latin America that the winds of change have greatest force. So where is Mexico in this panorama? There are currently eight Bills on the question of marihuana gathering dust in the annals of various parliamentary commissions.
The Ontario Superior Court in Canada declared the rules that govern medical marijuana access and the prohibitions laid out in sections 4 and 7 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act “constitutionally invalid and of no force and effect,” effectively paving the way for legalization. If the government does not respond within 90 days with a successful delay or re-regulation of marijuana, the drug will be legal to possess and produce in Ontario, where the decision is binding.
Uruguay’s drug czar says the country plans to sell legal marijuana for $1 per gram to combat drug-trafficking, according to a local newspaper. The plan to create a government-run legal marijuana industry has passed the lower house of Congress, and President Jose Mujica expects to push it through the Senate soon as part of his effort to explore alternatives in the war on drugs. The measure would make Uruguay the first country in the world to license and enforce rules for the production, distribution and sale of marijuana for adult consumers.
Following the release of a major draft report on drug policy in the Americas, the secretary-general of the Organisation of American States (OAS) called for the beginning of debate aimed at reforming those policies throughout the region. Many of the region’s leaders have expressed frustration with the limits and exorbitant costs of current policies and their desire for a more creative debate. But according to John Walsh, who participated in writing the OAS report, there is a lot of scepticism over whether the OAS will be up to the task, especially given U.S. domination of the issue.
The ban on recreational drugs promotes crime and is bad for public health. Austerity measures to cut public spending are a hot topic for debate everywhere in Europe. In the Netherlands, where a new parliament will be elected next month, several proposals to reduce spending by 30 billion euros are on the table. All of these proposals hit where it hurts, but one option could actually be a welcome relief: drug regulation. (See also: Former ministers: legalise all drugs!)
In the latest challenge from Latin America to drug war orthodoxy, on June 20, 2012, the Uruguayan government unveiled a proposal that, if adopted by the country’s legislature, would create legal, government-controlled markets for marijuana, as part of a broader strategy to improve citizen security and focus greater attention on the use of harder drugs. The market would be highly regulated, with strict age limits and prohibitions on public use.
Arguing that a drug-free society is unattainable, a commission of global figures – including former Swiss minister Ruth Dreifuss – are promoting a radical change in drugs policy. Two lawyers from Neuchâtel University have recently added their analysis to the case against the war on drugs proposing nothing less than the total legalisation of all illicit drugs.
Even as the national experiment legalizing recreational pot spread this week to Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., a new poll suggests the enthusiasm among voters has hit a plateau. A majority, 51%, favors legalizing marijuana, according to a Gallup Poll. That's about where support has been since 2011, but a drop from the 58% who told Gallup last year they supported legalization. Last year's poll came just after Colorado and Oregon had voted to allow marijuana to be sold in stores and were in the process of setting up the market.
When the Uruguayan president José Mujica was asked about his proposal to make a historic break with global prohibition and put in place a legal, state-controlled market for cannabis, he replied: "Someone has to be first." In fact, recent years have seen reforms to cannabis policy and law proceeding apace around the world. The trend for decriminalisation of possession for personal use (with civil or administrative penalties replacing criminal ones) has spread across much of Europe, Latin America, and beyond.
State-level cannabis reforms, which gathered steam this month, have exposed the inability of the United States to abide by the terms of the legal bedrock of the global drug control system; the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This is something that should force a much-needed conversation about reform to long- standing international agreements. But while ostensibly 'welcoming' the international drug policy reform debate, it is a conversation the US federal government actually wishes to avoid.