The Case for Coherent Policy on Marijuana in Uruguay

In Uruguay, the consumption of drugs, including marijuana, is not punishable with prison time. Paradoxically, the cultivation of marijuana for personal consumption is a crime, as is the purchase of marijuana. As a result, users who buy small amounts of marijuana and those who cultivate it to avoid buying it from criminal networks end up at odds with the legal system. Currently, Uruguay is debating the creation of a legal, regulated marijuana market. This is a sensible step that would allow police to direct resources and attention to more dangerous drugs. It would also help minimize the harms inflicted on non-violent offenders whose lives, and those of their families, are often ruined by harsh prison sentences.

To illustrate the futility and damage of current drug laws, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Transnational Institute (TNI) interviewed Alicia Castilla. At 66 years of age, she was arrested and imprisoned in Uruguay for three months for cultivating marijuana that she uses for her research books and personal consumption (to help her sleep). In this video testimony, she talks about the suffering caused by her imprisonment in Canelones (an Uruguayan prison) and her experience with the justice system in Uruguay. 

This video was produced by WOLA and TNI with the support of Open Society Foundations. It is the latest in a video-series featuring people who have spent time in prison for drug-related crimes, enduring harsh sentences that are disproportionate to the crimes they committed. These personal stories represent the rarely revealed human cost of the war on drugs. The series complements a WOLA-TNI study investigating the prison systems of eight countries in Latin America, and the impact of harsh drug laws and sentencing. The study compiled statistics from the Uruguayan National Drug Board showing that 79 percent of the police operations between 2006 and 2009 related to marijuana involved quantities of less than 100 grams.

A regulated marijuana market would free police resources to focus on criminal gangs distributing dangerous drugs such as paco and ensure that people like Alicia Castilla are not criminalized and imprisoned.

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It never ceases to amaze me that so many people in the Drug Law Reform movement in drug consuming countries, be it here in Europe or in the US, tend to focus exclusively on the demand and domestic supply of cannabis—paying little or no attention to the foreign supply side of both soft and hard drugs.

We may think that Prohibition is having seriously detrimental effects on consuming countries (and they are serious, indeed), but they do pale into insignificance when compared to the extraordinary price drug producing and transit countries like Colombia, Mexico, and many other countries around the world are paying.

It is understandable that we concentrate our attention on the consumption for that is what concerns us right here, right now. I do also understand that for many people cannabis is their major concern—sometimes it seems as if it were their only concern. I can appreciate the difference between tactics and strategy: the priority is to undermine the prohibitionist regime on this side of the fence, and in the process, help undermine the case for the war on the supply of drugs.

However, in order to fight effectively against Prohibition and put an end to the heinous effects their policies are having on millions upon millions of citizens around the world, for no rational, scientific or economic reasons, one has to look at the whole picture, and not just at consumption and domestic supply of cannabis.

In my view, what makes Regulated Legalisation such critical an issue is the irrationality and devastating effects of Prohibition and the so-called War on Drugs. Therefore, the call for Regulated Legalisation should be independent of what type of drugs we deem more or less harmful.

I say, by all means, let's legalise and regulate cannabis, but the same goes for other drugs, both soft and hard. Moreover, let's legalise and regulate the consumption of all drugs, but the same goes for their production and distribution. What must be ended is Prohibition and the War on Drugs themselves! More on this here: bit.ly/MbIcJ5 and here: bit.ly/L58gXx

Gart Valenc
Twitter: @gartvalenc

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