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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
José Mujica has attempted to change the premises and conditions of the drugs wars through the legalisation of marijuana. Although even the people of Uruguay don’t really back their president’s initial reform, it’s a start. Dr Raquel Peyraube, the leading drug treatment specialist in Uruguay, debunks the claim that legalisation will lead to a rise in schizophrenia, saying that if marijuana caused schizophrenia, the rate of the illness would have risen across society over the past few decades, since marijuana use has grown. Yet the rate has held steady.
Uruguay's President Mujica has quietly signed into law the government’s plan to create a regulated, legal market for marijuana. He signed the legislation Monday night. That was the last formal step for the law to take effect. Bureaucrats now have until April 9 to write the fine print for regulating every aspect of the marijuana market, from growing to selling in pharmacies. They hope to have the whole system in place by the middle of next year. But as of Tuesday, growing pot at home is legal in Uruguay, up to six plants per family and an annual harvest of 480 grams.
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.
Remarkable drug policy developments are taking place in Latin America. This is not only at the level of political debate, but is also reflected in actual legislative changes in a number of countries. All in all there is an undeniable regional trend of moving away from the ‘war on drugs’. This briefing explains the background to the opening of the drug policy debate in the region, summarises the most relevant aspects of the ongoing drug law reforms in some countries, and makes a series of recommendations that could help to move the debate forward in a productive manner.
For years, in Uruguay, various political factions have been promoting cannabis regulation in order to separate the market for soft drugs from the market for dangerous substances. This section presents important pronouncements, initiatives and proposals to reform the law, in chronological order.