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A: His opinion is obviously important. We have studied the idea and considered it, but it was too complex. Soft drugs would easily find their way to the black market. Free drugs are obviously attractive for criminals to sell abroad. The threshold for cannabis use would be too low. We don’t want to encourage anyone to smoke weed, let that be clear.
Q: Why is registration so important?
A: Firstly, in order to check the production volume, which should not exceed the demand. Secondly, to monitor individual consumption; if anyone needs more than one gram per day they have a problem. Anyone using that much will be walking around like an idiot all day and probably have problems at work or in their studies. Gathering this information will allow us to propose proper treatment for these people. But we’re not going to force anyone into taking treatment; that would be counterproductive.
Q: Will tourists be able to take advantage of legalization, too?
A: No, they can save themselves the trouble. Only people with a place of residence in Uruguay may register. Selling legally obtained marijuana to non-residents will remain illegal.
Q: In the Netherlands, many users refused to register when the law changed. Why should Uruguayan users do it?
A: For years before the government started requiring registration the Dutch were able to go unregistered to a coffee shop and get what they wanted. Perhaps not everyone here will want to register from day one, but that’s not a disaster. We’re in this for the long haul.
Q: How can you guarantee that information about registered users won’t be abused, for example within recruitment to the public sector?
A: We absolutely want to avoid that situation. There are mechanisms in place to protect registrants’ data. Most government departments, police forces, and insurance agents will not get access to this database. On the other hand, people use their credit card to buy a bottle of whiskey or drugs. That transaction is recorded and no one seems to care.
Q: How much money will legalization generate for the Uruguayan treasury?
A: We estimate it will generate U.S. $8-12 million in tax revenue. For a country of 3.3 million inhabitants, that is a significant amount. We’ll invest it primarily in awareness programmes. At the beginning of December a large-scale campaign on the risks of cannabis use will begin. The money will also go towards the treatment of problematic users.
Q: Isn’t there an inherent contradiction in legalizing cannabis while preaching about its dangers?
A: On the contrary! This is perfectly in line with the policy we’ve had for years with alcohol and tobacco. In parallel with cannabis we also regulate the distribution and consumption of alcohol. The rules for the promotion or advertising of alcohol will be much stricter than before. But citizens have the freedom to use those products. It is the duty of the government to inform them about the dangers and convince them to deal with their freedom responsibly.
Q: Does it work?
A: Yes, very well indeed. In 2005 we regulated the tobacco industry in a similar way. Since then, use among young people has fallen from 32 to 12 per cent! This proves that regulation can be an extremely powerful political tool and can effectively influence public health.