On Friday, Uruguay released its long-anticipated regulations accompanying the law that was signed into effect last December, which made Uruguay the first country in the world to legally regulate the production, sale and consumption of marijuana for adults.
Drug prohibition has devastating effects on people’s lives around the globe, from the 650,000 marijuana possession arrests per year in the United States to the 100,000 drug war deaths in Mexico in the past 7 years. Amidst growing consensus among political leaders in Latin America that the war on drugs isn’t working, Uruguay made this bold move in an effort to regulate an existing marijuana market currently controlled by illicit drug traffickers and to generate public health benefits by using marijuana tax revenue to fund educational programs aimed at preventing problematic drug use.
The Uruguayan marijuana regulation system will allow Uruguayan residents over the age of 18 to choose between three forms of access to non-medical marijuana: domestic cultivation of up to 6 plants per household; membership clubs where between 15 and 45 members can collectively grow up to 99 plants; and sales in licensed pharmacies of up to 10 grams per week.
Marijuana consumers will have to register with the government for one of the three options. The registry data will be confidential and protected. Regardless of the form of access, each individual will only be able to possess 480 grams of marijuana per year. The government has also granted a 180-day amnesty period during which individuals can register their current plants, after which it will only accept applications seeking prior permission to grow marijuana plants.
The Uruguayan model places high emphasis on regulation, control and restrictions aimed at curbing potential negative effects of legalization. All forms of advertising and promotion of use are prohibited, as is smoking in closed, public spaces, in the workplace, and at health establishments, schools and sports institutions. Driving under the influence of marijuana is not allowed, and the newly created Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA), tasked with regulating and controlling the whole system, will set the THC limits and types of test performed for DUI.
The regulations also include strong education and health components. While educational centers may ban people who are impaired from marijuana consumption from entering the premises, they are then obliged to offer support and information on marijuana use. Membership clubs also must educate and inform their members about responsible marijuana consumption and the IRCCA must promote harm and risk reduction strategies related to problematic use of marijuana.
And though the price of marijuana was not set in the regulations, during Friday’s press conference Presidential Under-Secretary Diego Cánepa announced that the price would be flexible, and would begin at roughly $1 per gram, in an effort to undercut the current illicit market for marijuana. The government will now embark on the implementation of the legal marijuana market, which is expected to be up and running by the end of 2014.
The war on drugs has not worked. It is refreshing to see a small, trailblazing country pave the way for more intelligent, coherent and humane drug policies. When other countries wake up to the fact that arresting people for nonviolent marijuana offenses and letting drug cartels control the market is completely counterproductive, they will follow the example being set by Colorado, Washington and now Uruguay.
Hannah Hetzer is the policy manager of the Americas at the Drug Policy Alliance and was based in Montevideo, Uruguay in 2013.
This piece first appeared in the Huffington Post.
By Hannah Hetzer