For many people, today is a historic day. Beyond being International Human Rights Day, this is also the day that the Uruguayan Senate votes on a comprehensive bill which regulates the production, cultivation, sale and consumption of cannabis.
The objectives of the law are to reduce the illegal drug market by exerting state control and separating markets, reduce the age of initiation among young people and provide a quality, accessible product to marijuana users. The law also provides for both personal cultivation, medicinal and recreational access, thus becoming the first country in the world to recognize that there are various uses for the plant. President Pepe Mujica promoted the initiative, although there was concerted international pressure from organizations such as the International Narcotics Control Board of the UN and neighbor countries such as Brazil. But Mujica has stayed strong, understanding that this law will radically transform their drug policy strategy and that it is a first step in ending the prohibitionist paradigm.
The Uruguayan Congress (or lower house) voted on this measure in June of this year and that was an uncertain vote as it was unclear whether the ruling party, the Frente Amplio, would succeed in getting the 50 votes needed to pass the bill to the Senate. But it did pass and today the Senate will debate the merits and drawbacks of this bill. It is expected to easily pass as the Frente Amplio has a clear majority. If you are interested in watching the vote live, please click here (in Spanish).
While many people believe that marijuana has been legalized in other countries, such as the Netherlands, it is important to note that these countries have not actually regulated the full supply chain, but rather have decided to make enforcement of marijuana laws a low priority. By not fully legalizing and regulating, these countries continue to be aligned with the international drug treaties of the UN. Drug policy reformers around the world have celebrated the marijuana regulation initiatives in the Colorado and Washington State, but these measures fail to transform federal law. For this reason, the proposed law in Uruguay goes one step further—openly breaking the UN consensus and clearly stating that prohibition has not worked for their country.
As Mexico and other parts of Latin America (and the world) continue to suffer the consequences of the war on drugs, witnessing high levels of violence, criminalization, homicides, disappearances and full militarization, civil society raises its voice to insist on a change in strategy. Social movements such as the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity in Mexico have come out in favor of the regulation of drugs to move away from war, towards peace and justice. When those most affected by the war on drugs demand respect for human rights, harm reduction and a focus on health, governments need to listen. Today, Uruguay provides us with hope and a first step towards change. Today is a historic day and is the beginning of the end of the war on drugs.