Drug reform around the world: part two

Supporters of legalization of cannabis in Montevideo march toward the Legislative Palace in May as part of the 2012 Global Marijuana March.

Protestors in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, campaign for marijuana legalisation. Copyright Miguel Rojo/AFP/Getty Images

Following the lead of Portugal’s progressive stance on drugs is Uruguay, whose president José Mujica announced in the middle of this year that he plans to make marijuana production and selling a state-run industry. Cannabis has always been legal to smoke in Uruguay but the country’s Congress is now deliberating a bill which would make weed a public commodity. If accomplished, Uruguay would be the first country to do so, and would redirect the huge amount of money cannabis users give to the black market into public hands. How much money you ask? Approximately $750 million[1]. This money would not only fund treatment programs and clinics for addicts, but think of how many better roads, teachers and hospitals could be created with the additional money left over.

Not only will this bill, if passed, improve government revenue but it will also reduce violent crime, a trend South America is all too well-known for. Making illicit drugs a public commodity means users will no longer have to liaise with criminals, while narcotrafficking and gang-related violence will also decrease since the drug is available on a communal basis. The bill proposes a plan in which marijuana cigarettes would be available to people 18 years and older, and who would only be allowed to buy a certain amount of cannabis each month.

Another country administering a more sensible drug apparatus is Spain, whose ‘cannabis clubs’ are a slightly different system to that of Uruguay’s proposal. These Spanish clubs grow and sell weed to their own members, some of whom require cannabis for medicinal purposes, and others who simply enjoy getting high. Each member pays an annual fee as well as for each individual purchase, which is usually around half the typical street value, and each member can purchase up to 60 grams a month.

Spain has been in fact leading the way on drug reform for a number of decades: in the 70s their Supreme court ruled that, while trafficking was a crime, possession was not. The main focus was discouraging purchasing cannabis with the intention to make a profit. About ten years ago a Spanish court went even further, declaring that even possession of large quantities of cannabis was not illegal, so long as there was still no clear intention of trafficking. Since then the number of ‘cannabis clubs’ has multiplied astronomically, to the point where there are now there are over 300 around Spain.

It is systems like Spain and Uruguay’s, where there is no privatisation and no hulking corporations  looking to cut corners on production quality, where decriminalisation works. One of the Spanish clubs actually estimates that, if implemented on a wide scale, the ‘clubs’ could create 30,000 new jobs in Spain[2], at a time when the country is in desperate economic straits.

So which system would you prefer, Spain or Uruguay’s? Do you think it would work in your home town? Let us know in the comments below.

In the next blog we discuss countries with strict conservative stances against drugs: the US and Mexico.

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