Latin American countries are turning to Europe for lessons on fighting drugs after souring on the prohibition-style approach of the violent and costly U.S.-led war on drugs. Until recently, most Latin American countries had zero-tolerance rules on drugs inspired by the United States. But now countries from Brazil to Guatemala are exploring relaxing penalties for personal use of narcotics, following examples such as Spain and Portugal that have channeled resources to prevention rather than clogging jails.
The election results this week from Washington, Colorado, Massachusetts and Arkansas demonstrate that public opinion about cannabis has moved much faster than the positions of elected officials. Despite what the voters in Washington and Colorado did, growing and selling marijuana will remain federal felonies. The federal reaction is crucial, and at the moment unpredictable. We probably won’t know until a new attorney general takes office.
Washington Liquor Control Board officials released draft rules for a legal seed-to-store marijuana system. Washington residents and out-of-staters could buy an ounce of tested, labeled marijuana, seven days a week, up to 20 hours a day, in state-regulated stores. That rule is more permissive than in Colorado, the other state creating an adult recreational-pot market. The draft rules are likely to be refined in weeks to come.
The number of cannabis clubs that have opened in Barcelona recently has some experts saying this city will soon challenge Amsterdam as the go-to destination for vacationers who want to get high in peace. In the last three years, new clubs have opened, particularly in tourist areas, in many cases circumventing the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. About 300 new cannabis clubs have opened in Barcelona and the surrounding Catalan region, a result, at least in part, of enterprising Spaniards looking for new ways to earn a living.
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!)
Italy took a first step toward legalization of pot, leading Europe in what would be a groundbreaking change. The Intergrupo Parlamentare Cannabis Legale, a cross-party committee, agreed on a provisional text to legalize the consumption, growing, production and sale of cannabis under certain conditions. The text was signed by 218 members of parliament, and not just by the usual suspects. The proposal would allow growing cannabis at home or as members of "cannabis clubs" where a maximum of 50 people could cultivate and then share the product, with a strict prohibition on selling to the general public. (See also: Bill would legalize marijuana)
In a manifesto, mayors of cities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht argue that the current laws allowing the sale but banning the cultivation of marijuana mean the nation’s cannabis cafés have to turn to illegal gangs for their supply, encouraging organised crime and wasting valuable police time dismantling unlawful plantations.
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.
France has some of the toughest possession statutes in Europe, but a first of its kind bill proposed could change that. People smoking a joint in France face a maximum penalty of a year behind bars and a €3,750 fine for the first offence, yet 13.4 million French people admit to sparking up at least once in their life. Even France’s Interior Minister Manuel Vallls said in an interview, he’d tried it “maybe once.” Esther Benbassa, the lawmaker behind the legislation tells why marijuana should be legalized in France. Legalizing cannabis has come up regularly in France, but the discussion never has never gotten far.
The city of Copenhagen wants to legalize cannabis and, if possible, get supplies of the drug from the United States. Following a Europe-wide trend, Denmark’s capital has been planning a three-year experiment that would aim to wrest the city’s soft drugs trade away from criminal gangs and place it under direct municipal control. But while city officials overwhelmingly support the move, the Danish national government may not let them proceed. Last year the national government rejected more tentative plans that Copenhagen city councillors had approved by 39 votes to 9.
Denver prosecutors will no longer charge those 21 and older for carrying less than an ounce of marijuana, and will review current cases that fit under the language of a recently voter-approved state constitutional amendment. District Attorney Mitch Morrissey and City Attorney Doug Friednash made their decision a day after Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett made headlines when he announced his office will dismiss any pending cases that deal with less than an ounce of marijuana.
The United States must not turn a blind eye to the recreational use of cannabis in states that liberalize drug laws, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said, urging the country to live up to its treaty commitments. Raymond Yans, president of the INCB, said assurances from the U.S. government in December that growing, selling or possessing the drug remained illegal under federal law were "good, but insufficient".
Alaska voters likely will get a chance next year to make their state the third in the country to approve the recreational use of marijuana by adults 21 and older. Pot backers took the first step toward getting the measure on the August 2014 primary ballot, presenting draft language and 100 signatures to the Alaska lieutenant governor’s office.
While Copenhagen's mayor, Frank Jensen, continues to be a vocal advocate for legalising cannabis in the city, arguing that a "paradigm shift" is in order, Copenhagen Police took a strikingly different approach Thursday. As part of the newly-announced 'Task Force Pusher Street', police arrested 28 individuals at Christiania. Jensen argued that the city "needs to go a new way". In an interview with Politiken newspaper on Sunday, the mayor said that the traditional police approach hasn’t worked before and is unlikely to work now.
Partial reforms have their limits. Most drug crime is not cannabis-related. Moving from punishment to harm reduction may help drug users, but it leaves gangsters in control of supplies and revenues. Many countries still stick to prohibition. The votes in Colorado and Washington were hardly imaginable ten years ago and make deeper change likely. They weaken the Single Convention, the illegal trade, and the prohibition industry that feeds on it.
The city of Copenhagen should be growing its own weed, said its mayor. According to Social Democrat Frank Jensen, the Danish capital can only get a grip on its huge trade in Cannabis if the state itself muscles in and displaces the pushers. Aware that a municipal government peddling its own grass might sound a little crunchy, Jensen is emphasizing the proposal's seriousness. "This isn’t a hippie proposal," he told newspaper Berlingske. "It's being discussed by people in suits and ties." (Editorial: Legalize marijuana on a trial basis)
Copenhagen mayor Frank Jensen rejects the Swedish concern about regulation of cannabis in Copenhagen. He emphasizes that the aim of the experiment is to remove the criminal gangs monopoly on the sale of marijuana. "We will eliminate a billion dollar business from organized crime. All figures show that the consumption of cannabis in Denmark has just risen and risen over the past several years, despite the fact that we have a ban in the area. Therefore, it is time to think of alternatives, and we have asked to be allowed to introduce a pilot scheme in Copenhagen."
Argentina has given the first sign that Uruguay’s groundbreaking cannabis reform just may have started a domino effect across Latin America. Following the momentous vote by its smaller neighbor’s senate this month — making it the first nation in the world to completely legalize the cannabis — Argentina’s anti-drug czar Juan Carlos Molina has called for a public discussion in his country about emulating the measure. His comments are the clearest sign yet that Uruguay’s strategy has kicked off a trend in the region.