Uruguay poised to legalize cannabis before end of year 2013

Uruguay cambia la historia cannabisBy Jeremy Daw, WestCoastLeaf.com

WCL News — The UN policy on cannabis has been rattled by events in South America. A bill to legalize small cannabis collectives, allow pharmacies to sell medical marijuana and direct the national government of Uruguay to become one of the world’s largest cannabis distributors passed its most difficult political hurdle when the small South American country’s House of Representatives approved it July 31, 2013 by a vote of 50 to 46. The measure, which has been enthusiastically endorsed by President Jose Mujica, is expected to pass easily in the Senate.

If the legalization bill becomes law, Uruguayan citizens 21 and older would have the right to form small collectives of up to six people to distribute the herb amongst themselves. Pharmacies would become the premiere destination for medical marijuana, exacting strict testing and labeling standards. Most significantly, the government itself would become directly involved in the trade by purchasing excess cannabis crops and selling the product at a price of about $2.50 per gram, a strategy calculated to drive illegal cartels out of business through cut-throat price competition instead of the violence which has heretofore characterized the global war on drugs. The pending policy would be the most liberal cannabis reform by any country since the worldwide accords which created the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.

That treaty, signed by Uruguay and 183 other nations, may represent the largest stumbling block to successful implementation of Mujica’s plan. Policy experts have noted the unprecedented nature of Uruguay’s proposed reform (see, e.g., Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford UP, 2012); it is therefore unclear how the UN may respond to the bill once it becomes law. While the plan may arguably fall under exceptions in the 1961 treaty which allow signatory governments to purchase excess cannabis supplies and thus divert them from the illicit market, such an interpretation has yet to be tested before international bodies.

Another option is to withdraw entirely from the 1961 treaty, a procedure provided for in the convention’s language; but to date no country has invoked the withdrawal process to legalize cannabis. Thus, Uruguay’s bold experiment in drug policy may prove a bellwether for other countries considering sharp departures from the last 50 years of international prohibitionist policies. — West Coast Leaf News Service

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