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.
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.
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.
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.
Pot connoisseurs of the world take note: Uruguay is about to go where no country has gone before by legalizing the cultivation and distribution of marijuana, with the left-of-center government regulating all facets of the trade. Under a bill approved by the lower house of the General Assembly and facing a Senate vote in weeks, Uruguayans will be able to grow up to six plants in their homes. Cooperatives of up to 45 members will be able to cultivate up to 99 plants for their own use.
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.
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 marijuana regulation bill, which has been passed by the lower house of the Uruguayan parliament, will allow registered users to buy up to 40g a month from a chemist's, registered growers to keep up to six plants, and cannabis clubs to have up to 45 members and cultivate as many as 99 plants. Julio Bango, one of the legislators who drafted the bill: "This is an experiment without a doubt and it will have a demonstrable effect. That could be important for the world because it could be the start of a new paradigm."
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?
Cannabis was condemned by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as a psychoactive drug with “particularly dangerous properties” and hardly any therapeutic value. Ever since, an increasing number of countries have shown discomfort with the treaty regime’s strictures through soft defections, stretching its legal flexibility to sometimes questionable limits.
A year after Uruguay's historic marijuana law was signed, officials have green-lighted homegrown cannabis, cannabis clubs, and hemp cultivation, but the specifics of its signature provision – a regulated commercial cannabis market – remain unclear.
Three United Nations Conventions provide the international legal framework on drug control, instructing countries to limit drug supply and use to medical and scientific purposes. Yet, debate continues on the decriminalisation, or even legalisation, of drugs, particularly cannabis. Models under development for the legal supply of cannabis are described in this analysis, as well as some of the questions they raise.
Part of the ‘Perspectives on drugs’ (PODs) series, launched alongside the annual European Drug Report, these designed-for-the-web interactive analyses aim to provide deeper insights into a selection of important issues.
Beau Kilmer, Kristy Kruithof, Mafalda Pardal, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Jennifer Rubin
14 December 2013
This RAND report provides an overview of the changes to laws and policies pertaining to cannabis in different countries. Several jurisdictions have reduced the penalties for possessing cannabis for personal use (and in some places even for home cultivation), while some jurisdictions have taken more dramatic steps and changed their laws and practices with respect to producing and distributing cannabis.