Pubdate: Sun, 02 Mar 2014
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Author: Gene Johnson, The Associated Press


Nations Consider Following U.S. Lead in Easing Positions on Pot

(AP) - In a former colonial mansion in Jamaica, politicians huddle to 
discuss trying to ease marijuana laws in the land of the late reggae 
musician and cannabis evangelist Bob Marley. In Morocco, one of the 
world's top producers of the concentrated pot known as hashish, two 
leading political parties want to legalize its cultivation, at least 
for medical and industrial use.

And in Argentina, the nation's drug czar, a Catholic priest who has 
long served in its drug-ravaged slums, is calling for a public debate 
about regulating marijuana.

 From the Americas to Europe to North Africa and beyond, the 
marijuana legalization movement is gaining unprecedented traction - a 
nod to successful efforts in Colorado, Washington state and the small 
South American nation of Uruguay, which in December became the first 
country to approve nationwide pot legalization.

Leaders long weary of the drug war's violence and futility have been 
emboldened by changes in U.S. policy, even in the face of opposition 
from their own conservative populations. Some are eager to try an 
approach that focuses on public health instead of prohibition, and 
some see a potentially lucrative industry in cannabis regulation.

"A number of countries are saying, 'We've been curious about this, 
but we didn't think we could go this route,' " said Sam Kamin, a 
University of Denver law professor who helped write Colorado's 
marijuana regulations. "It's harder for the U.S. to look at other 
countries and say, 'You can't legalize, you can't decriminalize,' 
because it's going on here."

That's in part due to a White House that's more open to drug war alternatives.

President Barack Obama recently told The New Yorker magazine that he 
considers marijuana less dangerous to consumers than alcohol, and 
said it's important that the legalization experiments in Washington 
and Colorado go forward, especially because blacks are arrested for 
the drug at a greater rate than whites, despite similar levels of use.

His administration also has criticized drug-war-driven incarceration 
rates in the U.S. and announced that it will soon let banks do 
business with licensed marijuana operations, which have largely been 
cashonly because federal law forbids financial institutions from 
processing pot-related transactions.

Such actions underscore how the official U.S. position has changed in 
recent years. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it 
wouldn't target medical marijuana patients. In August, the agency 
said it wouldn't interfere with the laws in Colorado and Washington, 
which regulate the growth and sale of taxed pot for recreational use.

Government officials and activists worldwide have taken note of the 
more open stance. Also not lost on them was the Obama 
administration's public silence before votes in both states and in Uruguay.

It all creates a "sense that the U.S. is no longer quite the 
drugwar-obsessed government it was" and that other nations have some 
political space to explore reform, said Ethan Nadelmann, head of the 
nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalization group based in New York.

Anxiety over U.S. reprisals has previously doused reform efforts in 
Jamaica, including a 2001 attempt to approve private use of marijuana 
by adults. Given America's evolution, "the discussion has changed," 
said Delano Seiveright, director of Ganja Law Reform Coalition-Jamaica.

Officials are concerned about the roughly 300 young men each week who 
get criminal records for possessing small amounts of "ganja." Others 
in the debt-shackled nation worry about losing out on tourism 
dollars: For many, weed is synonymous with Marley's home country, 
where it has long been used as a medicinal herb by families, 
including as a cold remedy, and as a spiritual sacrament by Rastafarians.

Influential politicians are increasingly taking up the idea of 
loosening pot restrictions. Jamaica's health minister recently said 
he was "fully on board" with medical marijuana.

In Morocco, lawmakers have been inspired by the experiments in 
Washington, Colorado and Uruguay to push forward their long-standing 
desire to allow cannabis to be grown for medical and industrial uses. 
They say such a law would help small farmers who survive on the crop 
but live at the mercy of drug lords and police attempts to eradicate it.

"Security policies aren't solving the problem because it's an 
economic and social issue," said Mehdi Bensaid, a legislator with the 
Party of Authenticity and Modernity, a political party closely allied 
with the country's king. "We think this crop can become an important 
economic resource for Morocco and the citizens of this region."

In October, lawmakers from Uruguay, Mexico and Canada converged on 
Colorado for a look at how that state's law is being implemented. 
They toured a medical marijuana dispensary and sniffed barcoded 
marijuana plants as the dispensary's owner gave them a tour.

"Mexico has outlets like that, but guarded by armed men," Mexican 
Congressman Rene Fujiwara Montelongo said afterward.

There's no general push to legalize marijuana in Mexico, where tens 
of thousands have died in cartel violence in recent years. But in 
more liberal Mexico City, legislators are planning to pitch a further 
loosening of pot laws by increasing personal possession limits, 
allowing residents to grow up to three plants and allowing private 
pot smoking clubs.

Opponents to legalization worry that pot could become heavily 
commercialized or that increased access will increase youth use. They 
say the other side's political victories have reawakened their cause.

"There's been a real hunger from people abroad to find out how we got 
ourselves into this mess in the first place and how to avoid it," 
said Kevin Sabet of Project Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Washington and Colorado passed recreational laws in 2012 to regulate 
the growth and sale of taxed pot at state-licensed stores. Sales 
began Jan. 1 in Colorado, and are due to start later this year in 
Washington. Twenty states and the District of Columbia already have 
medical marijuana laws.

A number of U.S. states are considering whether to try for 
recreational laws. Voters in Alaska will have their say on a 
legalization measure this summer. Oregon voters could also weigh in 
this year, and in California, drug-reform groups are deciding whether 
to push a ballot measure in 2014 or wait until 2016's presidential 
election. Abroad, activists are pushing the issue before a United 
Nations summit in 2016.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, where some countries have 
decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs, from cocaine to 
marijuana, there is significant public opposition to further 
legalization. But top officials are realizing that it is on the 
table, despite the long-standing efforts of the U.S., which has 
provided billions of dollars to support counter-narcotics work in the 

Current or former presidents in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and 
Brazil have called for a re-evaluation of or end to the drug war, a 
chorus echoed by Roman Catholic priest Juan Carlos Molina, the drug 
czar in Argentina.

The pace of change has put American legalization activists in heavy 
demand at conferences in countries weighing their drug laws, 
including Chile, Poland and the Netherlands. The advocates, including 
those who worked on the efforts in Washington and Colorado, have 
advised foreign lawmakers and activists on how to build campaigns.


Legalize it - or not

ARGENTINA: Personal possession of controlled substances has been 
decriminalized. In December, Father Juan Carlos Molina, a Catholic 
priest newly appointed as the nation's drug czar, said Argentina 
deserves a debate about whether to follow Uruguay in regulating marijuana.

BRAZIL: Brazil doesn't punish personal drug use, but trafficking or 
transporting small amounts of controlled substances is a criminal 
offense, punishable by drug abuse education or community service. In 
November, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso joined 
former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in calling for the 
decriminalization of all drugs and allowing countries to experiment 
with drug regulation.

GUATEMALA: President Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, a hard-hit 
cocaine transit country, took the floor at the U.N. last fall to join 
a growing chorus of nations calling the drug war a failed strategy. 
Prison terms of four months to two years can be imposed for the 
possession of drugs for personal use.

JAMAICA: The island nation is a primary source of marijuana in the 
Caribbean. Possession remains illegal and can result in mandated 
treatment or rehabilitation, though usually the defendant pays a 
small fine and is not incarcerated.

MEXICO: Where tens of thousands have been killed in drug war violence 
in recent years, there is no general push to legalize or regulate 
marijuana for recreational use. In 2009, the country decided not to 
prosecute people for possessing small amounts of drugs.

MOROCCO: Morocco is one of the world's leading hashish producers, and 
nearly all of it makes its way into Europe. There is little chance 
the conservative nation will legalize it for recreational use anytime soon.

NETHERLANDS: The Netherlands has long had some of the most liberal 
cannabis laws. Hoping to keep pot users away from dealers of harder 
drugs, the country in the late 1970s began allowing "coffee shops" to 
sell marijuana, which remains technically illegal.

URUGUAY: In December, Uruguay became the first nation to approve 
marijuana legalization and regulation.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom