Not long ago, Justin Trudeau admitted to have smoked marijuana after becoming an MP. This sparked a reaction of comments from various politicians that heated up the old debate about legalizing cannabis in Canada. Prime Minister Harper may be completely against the legalization, however, a new wave of thinking about how to control and fight drug addiction is about to be introduced. Uruguay aims to regulate the production and sale of marijuana under a new law that was approved by the lower house of congress and is expected to be confirmed by the senate.
The bill specifies that the commercialization of cannabis will be regulated and monitored by the state. Uruguayans would be able to buy up to 40 grams of cannabis per month from specific pharmacies. They will also legally be able to grow a maximum of six plants in their homes. The government will monitor and regulate the consumption through the use of a database whereby the transactions will be recorded as part of a person’s profile.
Proponents of the bill argue that it will help lessen the violence and crime associated with the underground drug industry. It would also divert an estimated 40 million dollar market into the legal economy.
The government also expressed that the bill will not incentivize people to consume marijuana. Instead, it aims to provide a safer environment in which the transaction of cannabis can be done, effectively taking out the crime factor in the equation. Moreover, educational campaigns are set to assure responsible consumption.
Another important point put forward by the government is that those interested in acquiring cannabis could do so in a more direct manner. One of the reasons behind it is that people looking for marijuana often encounter spheres where other drugs such as cocaine and LSD are also sold. Legalizing cannabis would allow people to avoid such environments, thusly, reducing the likeness of those drugs being consumed. Others argue that the distinction between “softer” and “harder” drugs is debatable and can be problematic.
Decriminalizing the sale of marijuana will also redirect important police resources to other pressing issues of the Uruguayan society, if the expected fall in crime does indeed take place. The government argues that the police could save resources associated with fighting the sale of marijuana to focus on fighting crime in other fronts.
Advocates of the bill express that it is time to try new alternatives in the war on drugs. Other Latin American countries are expectantly waiting to see the effects of the efforts led by Uruguay to combat the drug industry, as those countries have been unsuccessfully trying to solve the problem in their own backyards. The war on drugs has caused the death of thousands and has resulted in little advances. This alternative is an experiment and as such it is bound to have successes and failures. However, it could be argued that it has at least taken a rather bold and innovative strategy—outside the box when it comes to tackling the drug industry.
The opposition argued against the bill accusing the government of promoting the use of marijuana, which is said to be the entry drug to a world of addiction and experimentation with harder drugs. They also state that the price at which cannabis will be sold is substantially higher than the current one which would result in an illegal market because of the difference in prices.
Federico Hermida, a fourth year engineer student living in Montevideo, sees the bill as a progressive step in fighting drug related crimes but agrees that it has to be handed carefully. He expressed that “when we talk about the legalization of marijuana, the general sense is that perhaps its consumption is being promoted. I believe the reason behind this thought is the lack of information about drugs and the dogmas associated with them. In my opinion, if the law reaches objectives such as eradicating or diminishing the illegal drug market share, regulating the commercialization and consumption of cannabis, and contributes in avoiding the consumption of drugs with a higher health and social impact, then it could help in fighting the growing drug problem present in the Uruguayan society. The results will depend on how well the law is carried out and how society responds to it. It is a very serious topic and it must be treated with responsibility. I am in favor of the bill and I think once it is put in place it will be important to evaluate the results and make modifications, or even revoke it, in the worst-case scenario.”
With elections campaigns coming up next year, one of the most popular Presidential candidates, Tabaré Vázquez, said he would agree with legalizing and regulating cocaine as well. It was a bold move that heated up the political arena. The probabilities of legalizing cocaine will depend, in part, on the success of the marijuana bill. In any case, Uruguay seems to be at the front of a new wave of thinking about how to fight drug addiction and drug related crime.