Ending decades of illegal drug trafficking, the Uruguay Senate voted to legalize marijuana in what looks like the shape of things to come around the globe but most certainly in the United States. “The state assumes the control and regulation of the activities of importation and exportation, sowing, growing, harvesting . . . storing, commercializing and distributing,” read the new government legalization law, once-and-for-all attempting to reduce illicit drug trafficking, giving the state a new form of revenue. When Colorado and Washington State passed their own legalization laws in 2014, it showed that old misguided attitudes about marijuana leading to more dangerous drug use were a thing of the past. While California voters rejected legalization in the 2010 Midterm Election, it was the first state to pass Nov. 5, 1996 a medical marijuana law known as Prop 215. Seventeen years later, California finds no adverse effects on the public or law enforcement.
Before California’s 1996 Compassionate Use law, opponents to legalization made every bogus argument imaginable, especially that marijuana would destroy the youth and degrade society. With no adverse effects, it was just a matter of time before states like Colorado and Washington concluded that there’s no reason not to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Uruguay battled similar objections with opponents whipping up the same kind of baseless fear-mongering. “It’s a very bad piece of legislation, mainly because it increases the availability of marijuana in the market . . .” said Uruguay’s Colorado Party Sen. Alfredo Solari. “There will be a legal market that can be accessed by most Uruguayans. But there will also be a parallel illegal market for all of those who can’t get marijuana legally,” missing the essential experience in California: Seventeen years of medical marijuana saw no increase in marijuana use among the non-drug using population.
Since the Nixon Administration 1970 Narcotics Control Act, marijuana was classified as a dangerous narcotic together with heroin and other opiates. Penalties for marijuana use were just as draconic as more dangerous narcotics, rapidly filling state prisons up with non-violent marijuana offenders. While the legal and prison industries benefited from the countless arrests, prosecutions, fines and incarcerations, the costs to taxpayers to warehouse marijuana offenders harmed state budgets. “This is about regulating drugs. It doesn’t mean that it’s a free-for-all, but it doesn’t mean prohibition either. It means regulation has to work to reduce the risks and harmful effects of drug consumption,” said Sen. Louis Gallo, a member of the Uruguay’s Broad Front Party. State officials recognize that consenting adults above the age of 18 have the right to use marijuana for recreational purposes without fears of arrest, prosecution and other legal consequences.
Uruguay’s legalization law, like those in Colorado and Washington State, also recognizes that it’s not necessary to get a prescription from a medical doctor to justify using marijuana. Prescriptions are easily obtained in the 20 U.S. states with Medical Marijuana laws in place. Whether or not one has a headache or some other medical reason for using marijuana, Uruguay ends the medical rationale, making marijuana legal for recreational use. Medical marijuana laws helped create the foot-in-the door to more widespread acceptance now seen around the United States and elsewhere. Uruguay’s new law permits individuals over the age of 18 to grow up to six plants and possesses up to 480 grams, over one pound of marijuana. Marijuana clubs with 15-45 members are allowed to possess up to 99 plants at a time. With a population of 3.3 million, Uruguay hopes to collect enough tax to help finance the law that takes 120 days to implement after passage.
Hoping to reduce the drug cartel’s influence in Uruguay, the legalization law seeks to tax marijuana users for the state’s benefit. Taking illegal sales away from the illicit drug trade the state hopes to better regulate marijuana use. “We would like to identify those who consume [marijuana] and offer them a regulated opportunity to consume [the drug] so that they don’t have to depend on drug traffickers,” said Jose Mujica, a senior Uruguayan politician. “We want to take away the market from drug traffickers by competing with them,” hoping to break Uruguay’s illicit drug trade. If states with medical marijuana laws offer any experience, more regular marijuana users buy the product legally through approved dispensaries. While some users may stay with their old dealers, many others will obtain the drug legally to steer clear of any legal consequences. In states like California, marijuana users prefer the medicinal consistency of state-approved dispensaries.
Uruguay’s new legalization law gives a good crystal ball of what’s ahead for legalization around the globe. Governments and individual state are starting to see the value—an potential revenue—from legalizing marijuana. If seventeen years of medical marijuana in California offers any insights, marijuana use should remain fairly consistent. Within the adult population, some folks prefer the effects of marijuana over alcohol. While some like both, it’s unlikely the alcohol beverage industry has anything to worry about. Nor should the prescription drug market also fear less analgesic or narcotic prescription use with legal or medical marijuana availability. Recreational or medicinal marijuana users have shown remarkable consistency, suggesting neither increases nor decreases in expected use. As Mujica notes, legalization should help direct marijuana users to legal resources over time, helping the state collect new taxes for recreational or medical marijuana use.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma