Up and down the Western Hemisphere, marijuana policy is a growing topic of discussion, and laws are starting to change. In 2014, retail marijuana stores opened in the states of Colorado and Washington, where anyone over 21 years old can purchase a wide variety of marijuana products.
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.
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.
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.
Uruguay's politicians who led the charge to legalize marijuana and same-sex marriage appeared to win another ringing endorsement from voters in the South American country. Exit polls placed Tabaré Vazquez of the left-wing Broad Front coalition in the lead in the country's presidential runoff. Candidate Luis Lacalle Pou of the conservative National Party told supporters that he had conceded to Vazquez and wished him well. A win for Vazquez would give Uruguay a third consecutive five-year term with a leftist leader at the helm.
Uruguay could start selling marijuana in pharmacies in March 2015, the head of the National Drugs Board said, although the government had initially been aiming for year-end. A variety of hurdles are preventing the government from making its deadlines in implementing the measures passed into law last December. Even the plan to start selling marijuana in March, when President Jose Mujica leaves office, looks ambitious as the government is still tendering cultivation licenses.
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.
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.
When Uruguay's historic marijuana regulation law passed the Senate in December, it was a major victory for drug policy reform in Uruguay and around the world. However, opposition leader Luis Lacalle Pou's surge in the October 2014 general election polls is a threat to the law, as his National Party has consistently been critical of marijuana regulation. While the complete repeal of the law is improbable, some concessions to the opposition appear likely, and there is a chance the law could end up stripped of its most controversial elements, like the commercial sale in pharmacies and the cannabis clubs.
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.
Uruguayans will be able buy up to 10 grams of pot a week, enough to roll 20 joints, under new rules governing the recently legalized marijuana trade in the country. Cannabis consumers will have to register with the government on a confidential list before making purchases from authorized pharmacies, according to the law passed by Congress in December 2013. The pharmacies can only be supplied by private growers authorized by the government, which will oversee quality and choose varieties. The government will auction up to six licenses to produce cannabis legally.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Juan Andres Palese was using a fake name in public when he opened Uruguay’s first store dedicated to cultivating marijuana, where he offered growing equipment and advice but no illegal plants or seeds. Now that President Jose Mujica’s plan to create and regulate the world’s first national marijuana market has the force of law, Palese’s got much bigger plans.
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.