Pubdate: Sun, 01 Feb 2015
Source: Kuwait Times (Kuwait)
Copyright: 2015 Kuwait Times Newspaper


MONTEVIDEO (AFP) - After Uruguay first moved to legalize marijuana in 
2013, the approach has taken root in Latin America with several other 
countries now considering a revamp of their own drug laws. "Someone 
has to start in South America," Uruguayan President Jose Mujica said 
in late 2013 as he unveiled plans to make cannabis legal in his 
country. Under Mujica, Uruguay became the first country in the world 
to fully legalize marijuana all the way from the cannabis field to 
the joint, setting up a regulated market for cultivation, sales and 
use. Though marijuana is not yet being sold in pharmacies, the 
National Drug Council, or JND, already counts 1,300 of the country's 
3.3 million inhabitants registered as self-producers. There are also 
six clubs of up to 45 consumers.

Uruguay's neighbors are intrigued.

"Because Uruguay did it and has not yet suffered any massive negative 
consequence, either in terms of international relations, foreign 
policy, sanctions or domestic political repudiation, it's become an 
option for other countries to consider," John Walsh of the Washington 
Office on Latin America said. Pien Metaal of the Transnational 
Institute in Amsterdam agreed that "Uruguay has inspired many 
countries to at least take a few steps in that direction." "It is not 
possible to go back. The genie came out of the bottle and there is no 
way to get him back inside," she added.

In late October, Chile became the first in the region to grow 
cannabis for therapeutic uses, though the drug is still officially 
considered a narcotic.

A bill under consideration seeks to decriminalize growing cannabis 
for personal uses. In Colombia, parliament is debating a bill 
allowing medical use of the drug, with support from center-right 
President Juan Manuel Santos. A bill backed by Argentine Secretary 
General to the Presidency Anibal Fernandez seeks to decriminalize 
marijuana cultivation for personal use, but the government overall is 
still opposed.

Another bill seeks to decriminalize therapeutic consumption and uses 
of the drug. In several countries in the region, marijuana possession 
for personal use is no longer subject to penalties.

US example

Beyond the region, Latin America is also looking to its huge northern 
neighbor, the United States. Despite its troubled history with the 
war on drugs, which saw Washington engage in a long campaign of drug 
prohibition, military aid and military intervention in Latin America 
and beyond, reforms are now underway in the country itself.

Four states have already regulated cannabis for recreational 
use-Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington-and 23 have legalized its 
medical use. "This makes the United States lose a bit of credibility 
when it dictates its drug policies to Latin America, as it has done 
for the past several decades," Metaal said.

After having long advocated for prohibition, "it is time for the 
United States to show coherence in the way it deals with countries in 
the region, and to stop preaching something they cannot apply at 
home," said Eduardo Vergara, who heads Chile's Asuntos del Sur 
think-tank. But he noted that "the region remains divided," and some 
Latin-American countries are still hesitant, Vergara added.

"Legalizing drugs is not on the agenda right now," Brazilian Justice 
Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said recently, despite a raft of bills 
seeking to do just that. Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru 
and Venezuela also share similar positions.

But there is also a chorus defending legalization, including from 
ex-presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil and Vicente Fox of 
Mexico. And calls for a new approach are rising in the region, the 
world's biggest producer of cocaine and long in the grips of violence 
linked to drug trafficking. The repressive approach has "failed," 
according to Colombian leader Santos, while his Ecuadoran counterpart 
Rafael Correa labels it a "complete failure."

And with the support of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico-all facing a 
bloody drug-related wave of violence-the United Nations will hold a 
special session on drug policy next year. But while marijuana 
legalization is taking place in the United States through public 
pressure, change is more gradual in its southern neighbors. "There is 
public skepticism in Latin America, where the public may not be 
pleased with their drug war, but also tend to associate the idea of 
legalization as permissive or surrendering," Walsh said. Even 
Uruguay's marijuana law faces an uncertain future, as it is opposed 
by president-elect Tabare Vazquez.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom