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Sat Aug 3, 2013, 12:08 AM

What Uruguay's Legal Marijuana Policy Means for the World


by Ethan Nadelmann, the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

(The Drug Policy Alliance is a group started/combined by academics and others to provide accurate information about drugs, in response to U.S. attempts to use intelligence agencies and other political pressure on academics and others who were intimidated by our govt. when the science didn't agree with the drug propaganda.)

(Uruguay) provides, significantly, a model for how to engage in debate over marijuana policy in a mature and responsible way. When President Mujica first issued his proposal last June, he made clear that he welcomed vigorous debate over both its merits and the particulars. International experts were invited from abroad for intensive discussions with people from all walks of civil society and government. A range of specific proposals were considered, all with an eye toward transforming an illegal industry into a legal one to better protect public safety and health. Political rhetoric and grandstanding permeated the debate, as would be expected in any vibrant democratic process, but substantive issues dominated.

What I as an American find most striking about Uruguay’s historic move is the demonstration of political leadership by President Mujica. In the United States, marijuana policy reform is an issue on which the people lead and the politicians follow. Colorado and Washington changed their laws through the ballot initiative process, with roughly 55% of voters supporting the reform, while most elected officials sat on the sidelines. Even today, with a majority of Americans in favor of legalizing marijuana, not one U.S. governor or U.S. senator is prepared to publicly support the legalization of marijuana (apart from the governors of Washington and Colorado who now are obliged to implement the new laws in their states). By contrast, when President Mujica made his proposal, he reportedly did it without consulting any polls or political consultants; he simply listened to respected experts about what the optimal marijuana policy would be – and then said, let’s do it.

President Mujica is not the only Latin American leader to demonstrate courage in calling for alternatives to the drug war. Presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala have boldly demanded that legalization, decriminalization and other alternatives to ineffective, costly and destructive prohibitionist drug policies be considered. More recently, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza has catapulted regional discussion of drug policy to an intellectual level unprecedented among multilateral organizations. But President Mujica’s proposal is unique in changing not just public debate but also actual laws and policies.

All this serves as a wake-up call for Europe, which was at the forefront of global drug policy reform in the latter part of the 20th century but has now been leapfrogged by developments in the Americas. Serious proposals for legal regulation of marijuana are proliferating in countries like Switzerland, Spain, the Czech Republic, Denmark and the Netherlands. And in Morocco, long one of the world’s leading producers of marijuana, legalization proposals are now being taken seriously by the national government.

The OAS Drug Policy Report - http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/2013/05/oas-secretary-general-presents-historic-drug-policy-report-president-santos-colombia

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