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Friday, 28 July 2017 05:43

Uruguay Becomes First Country to Begin Retail Sale of Marijuana

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uruguaylicenseplUruguayan citizens can now legally buy marijuana at their local pharmacies. (Photo: @Doug88888)

Jeff Sessions reportedly has his eye on suppressing the growing movement in states to legalize the medical and personal use of marijuana. In fact, the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization promoting enlightened policies on drug use, reported in a news release yesterday:

[T]he Senate Appropriations Committee voted by voice vote to approve an amendment that would block the Department of Justice from spending any funds to undermine state medical marijuana laws. The amendment – led by Senator Leahy (D-VT) – is a striking rebuke of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had personally requested that Congress eliminate the amendment and allow him to prosecute medical marijuana providers and patients. The amendment passed with strong Republican support, a sign that Sessions is isolated politically as rumors of a crackdown on marijuana businesses abound.

The Hill reported last week that "the Trump administration is readying for a crackdown on marijuana users under Attorney General Jeff Sessions." Sessions personally favors a cruel prison-industrial complex response to drug use, reversing the slow Obama administration trend toward toward accepting the decriminalization of marijuana and decreasing the number of people imprisoned for drug use in general.

The attorney general is an ardent supporter of the ruinous decades-long war on drugs, which has resulted in innumerable destroyed lives in the US. The militarization of the so-called war has also led to the deaths of untold numbers of people in Mexico and Latin America.

However, many countries continue to move away from war-on-drugs politics. Contrast the Trump Department of Justice's return to failed anti-drug policies with what occurred in Uruguay this week. It became the first nation in the world to begin the countrywide retail sale of marijuana on July 19. According to the HuffPo,

[Last] Wednesday, Uruguay began sales of legal marijuana for adult residents....

Uruguay’s model will look quite different from the eight U.S. states that have legalized marijuana. Since there is no one-size-fits-all marijuana legalization system, it’s important for each jurisdiction to tailor marijuana regulation to their local needs and contexts, providing the world with different models to learn from.

The Uruguayan model allows four forms of access to marijuana: medical marijuana through the Ministry of Public Health; domestic cultivation of up to six plants per household; membership clubs where up to 45 members can collectively produce up to 99 plants; and licensed sale in pharmacies to adult residents. Regulation will be overseen by the government’s Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA).

The Drug Policy Alliance took note. Hannah Hetzer, the senior international policy manager at the Alliance, said in a press statement:

This is a historic moment. In recent years, Latin American leaders have decried the staggering human, environmental and financial costs of the war on drugs in their region. Uruguay is boldly demonstrating that concrete alternatives to failed prohibitionist policies are possible.

The Alliance also commented on the status of forms of marijuana legalization in other countries,

Marijuana reform gained remarkable momentum throughout the hemisphere in recent years. Twenty-nine U.S. states have legalized medical marijuana, while eight states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana more broadly. Jamaica decriminalized marijuana for medical, scientific and religious purposes; Colombia and Puerto Rico legalized medical marijuana through executive orders; Chile allows for marijuana cultivation for oncology patients; Mexico recently passed a medical marijuana bill a year after their Supreme Court ruled that prohibition of marijuana for personal consumption is unconstitutional; and Canada is set to become the next country to fully legalize marijuana.

Flowing against this tide is Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration. BuzzFlash first reported on the Uruguayan legalization of pot when the parliament passed the legislation legalizing marijuana in 2013. I noted then that it is 5,200 air miles between Washington, DC and Montevideo, Uruguay, but that the separation on national policies toward pot is a whole lot wider. That is even truer today, unfortunately. The Trump administration, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, appear predisposed to view marijuana use as a crime to be prosecuted. This perspective -- prosecution and punishment instead of controlled use and rehabilitation -- applies to illegal drug use in general. The only hope is that a pending DOJ task force study due out soon will conclude that marijuana use is not associated with increasing crime, as Sessions has personally contended.

The US already has the largest prison population in the world, yet we are now saddled with an executive branch that is determined to boost the size of the prison-industrial complex and pursue more failed policies. The damage done by this approach does direct harm to people, particularly people of color, while many others financially benefit from the growth of the mass-incarceration industry.

In an article about the commencement of retail marijuana sales in Uruguay, The New York Times notes,

The government limits how much people can buy each week. And in an effort to undercut drug traffickers, it is setting the price below black market rates, charging roughly $13 dollars for 10 grams, enough for about 15 joints, advocates say. The law also bars advertising and sets aside a percentage of proceeds from commercial sales to pay for addiction treatment and public awareness campaigns about the risks of drug use.

“These are measures designed to help people who are already users without encouraging others who don’t consume,” said Alejandro Antalich, the vice president of the Center of Pharmacies in Uruguay, an industry group. “If this works as planned, other countries could adopt it as a model.”

In an ideal world, the law now being implemented in Uruguay would serve as a model for the United States. It is practical and passes the test of common sense. Unfortunately, while Uruguay moves forward on pot policy, those who oversee federal policy in Washington, DC appear to want to row backwards.