Uruguay is one of very few countries that never criminalised drug possession for personal consumption. It is now pushing for a fully regulated legal cannabis market.
1974 – Repealed previous legislation, meaning that there are no quantity limits and that it is up to judicial discretion to determine whether the intent behind possession was personal consumption. If it is determined that the possessed amount was for personal use, there are no criminal sanctions.
1998 – The 1974 legislation is rephrased but the central meaning in terms of drug use for personal use remained untouched and the lack of criminal punishment for personal users is continued.
2012 - Under lead of Uruguayan president José Mujica, a draft bill is presented to congress for legalizing marijuana cultivation and consumption. An earlier draft had proposed a state monopoly over cannabis importation, production, acqueisition, storage, sale , and distribution of marijuana or its derivatives, but after an international consultation procedure the draft bill presented to the General Assembly in November legally permits individuals and companies to produce and sell marijuana for recreational, medicinal, or industrial uses, under the ordinance of a National Cannabis Institute.
The bill allows for home cultivation of up to six plants and membership clubs with a maximum of 15 members per club. The threshold quantity for personal consumption is 40 grams (around 1.5 ounces) of marijuana. Clubs will be allowed cultivation of up to 90 plants and annual production of up to 7.2 kilograms.
The bill’s stated aim is to “protect promote and improve the public health of the population through policies geared towards minimising the risks and reducing the dangers of cannabis use”.
The central objectives are the separation of the cannabis market from the market for other drugs; normalization and full social inclusion of marijuana use; strengthening of the national system of treatment for people with problematic drug use; and a frontal assault on drug trafficking.
Mujica’s allies are currently majority in both houses, so the bill is expected to pass. However, there is only 40% public approval, and the bill has been denounced by the UN for breaching the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics.
Minister of Defense Eleuterio Fernandez wishes to move the country “toward a stricter state of control of the disturbution and production of [cannabis]. It’s a fight on both fronts: against corruption and drug trafficking. We think the prohibition of some drugs is creating more problems to society than the drug itself.”
When the Uruguayan President José Mujica was asked about his proposal to make a historic break with global prohibition and put in place the first legal, state controlled market for cannabis, he replied: “Someone has to be first”.
2013 – On the 31st of July the Board Front Coalition approved the proposal after a 13 hours deliberation, now the measure goes to the Senate, even if there are several opposite opinions.
The President of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, explained that the new cannabis regulation has the aim to fight against the illegal market and avoid drug addiction. Government will have the monopoly of marijuana market and users (only Uruguayan citizens) have to be registered in a National Database and be at least 18 years old. Each persons will be allow to buy 40 grams per months or cultivate no more than six plants on their house.
Moreover, Diego Canepa, the Uruguayan Pro-Secretary of Presidency, justified the new law on the basis of the War on Drugs failure. In more than 50 years of prohibition in Latin America, the War on Drugs has provoked harm, death, social insecurity, human rights violation, health issues and criminal justice costs. Canepa, also said that cannabis has to be seen as a health problem.
The 44 articles are dedicated to describe project justification, define production, use and price condition, create a User’s List, formulate new Health System Policies and Health Education, articulate a Prevention programs, establish the Cannabis Control and Regulation Institution (in Spanish Instituto de Regulación y Control del Cannabis), and found a Monitoring and Evaluation Unity.
Articles 1 to 4
- Government will have the task to regulate and control production, use, sales, prevention, etc.
- The aim of this law is to protect the Uruguayan population from illegal drug traffic.
- The law shows what are the harms of cannabis and promotes prevention.
Articles 5 to 8
- Scientific investigation and medical use will be allowed.
- Personal and collective production will be allowed.
- The Personal Cannabis Possession allowed will be 40 g (US$ 2.5 per gram in order to compete with black market).
- Cannabis for recreational use will be sold in drug stores.
- Cannabis for medical use will be sold only under green prescription.
- Establishment of a Users’ List.
Articles 9 to 13
- Prevention System Establishment.
- Health Education realization.
- No advertising will be permitted.
Articles 14 to 16
- Only Uruguayan people over the age of 18 will be allowed to purchase and use cannabis.
- Sanctions for driving under Cannabis effects.
Articles 17 to 41
- Establishment of the Cannabis Control and Regulation Institution (defining functions, instruments, organization, etc.
Articles 42 to 44
- Establishment of a Monitoring and Evaluation Unity.
- The Executive Power will regulate the law.
Uruguay draft seems to be a beginning for a new Drug Policy approach, that will break with an harmful past in which the War on Drugs have caused thousands of deaths in Latin America, especially in Mexico and Colombia.