So Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana! This is a big step, although it is going to be a problem that the federal government still bans the substance.
Now, it looks like Uruguay might be the first country on Earth to fully legalize marijuana. (Or “marihuana,” as they spell it.) The Netherlands tolerates it, but it is not fully legal.
It is pretty neat that a serious country may legalize marijuana, but to give away the punchline, I doubt very much that it will be a harbinger of much until the American or Canadian federal government moves. There is a lot of opposition to legalization in Latin America, and Uruguay is not considered a bellweather. (It is one in practice, but that is more because Uruguay gets to the future first and less because other nations deliberately emulate the Eastern Republic.)
The bill is pretty vague. Here is the complete text:
“The State will assume control and regulation over the importation, production, acquisition in any form, storage, commercialization and distribution of marihuana and its derivatives, under such terms and conditions as fixed by regulation.
“Likewise, the State will undertake such material activities as are necessary before, during and after to carry out the activities referred to in the previous paragraph, under such terms and conditions as fixed by regulation.
“The activities referred to in the previous paragraphs shall be realized exclusively under a policy of damage reduction that shall, therefore, alert the population to the consequences and adverse effects of marihuana consumption, as well as the effects of minimizing the risks and damages to the population of potential consumers under such conditions as fixed by regulation.”
It is worth noting here that the Uruguayan president is quite a bit more powerful than the American president. (At least inside the country. Outside Uruguay, I do not believe that Mr. Mujica has the ability to order flying robots to kill anyone.) As long as his cabinet concurs, the Uruguayan president can send bills directly to Parliament. (Officially, the “General Assembly,” but everyone calls it Parliament.) In fact, under Article 168 the president can designate bills as urgent. “Urgent” bills must be approved or disapproved with 85 days or they automatically become law. The catch is that the president can only submit one urgent bill at a time.
The marihuana bill is not urgent.
So it is taking its own sweet time through Parliament. Of the six security measures proposed by the President (the marihuana deal is considered a security measure) the legislature has approved only one, which reduced sentences for low-level drug dealing while increasing the penalties for corruption. Right now, the marihuana bill is in a dicey spot. It can pass, but only with support from the President’s Broad Front. So far, only one opposition legislator has come out in support. President Mujica seems reluctant to pass such a significant bill on a party-line vote.
In order to get support, the administration has announced what the regulations might look like after the bill is passed. The drug will cost ₱700 per gram, around US$36. That is higher than the U.S. price of $14 per gram, but roughly the price in Uruguay. (Since marijuana is still illegal, it is hard to come up with a standardized price, even for tolerated medical marijuana.) If the law passes, Uruguayan consumers will receive a photo ID armed with a photo and bar code (that is high tech?) and be limited to 40 grams a month.
To sum, the bill looks likely to pass, but it is still generating controversy.
But I would also bet that the Mexican government is going to consider legalization but do nothing until the U.S. federal government moves. There is a great deal of conservative opposition in Mexico, deeper and wider than in Uruguay, and with a weaker president and a divided Congress everything is tougher.
In fact, contrary to popular belief, a great book by Isaac Campos shows that opposition to marijuana actually originated inside Mexico; it was not imposed by international norms. The reverse actually: had Mexicans been less anti-marijuana, then the world might not have gone prohibitionist.*