Free Minds & Free Markets

The Architect of Uruguay's Marijuana Legalization Speaks Out

"Current drug policy is disastrous. Doing nothing is not an option anymore," says Julio Calzada, one of the men behind Uruguay's drug revolution.

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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.

Q: Raymond Yans, president of the UN's International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is concerned that legalization will have serious consequence for public health, particularly among young people.

A: We are convinced that the current criminalization of soft drugs is much more harmful to health than drug use itself. In 2012, 82 people were killed in incidents related to illicit drug trafficking in Uruguay. Compare that to zero killed by the consumption of marijuana. Uruguay has, by Latin American standards, low crime rates. But the number of violent offenses has increased in 2011 by 32 per cent. That is alarming. In this new environment we’re seeing contract killings taking place, which up until now were unheard of in Uruguay. We want to take the wind out of organized crime’s sails, and the drug trade is their most lucrative business.

Q: Consumption of hard drugs has been tolerated for years in Uruguay, why not take that from the cartels at the same time?

A: We’re focusing on marijuana because it represents the largest group of drug users and the greatest source of income for criminals. Fourteen per cent of Uruguayans aged between 16 and 64 have used marijuana, versus one per cent using cocaine. Legalization also separates cannabis distribution from more destructive hard drugs. If users can buy a joint on the mainstream market they are less likely to come into contact with hard drugs, which at the moment are coming from the same dealers. The Netherlands has opened coffee shops to separate cannabis from the heroin market. That policy has been highly successful. The Netherlands has less hard drugs, drug-related deaths and HIV infections than most other European countries.

Q: Meanwhile, "nederwiet" [Dutch super-strength weed] has practically become a hard drug.

A: That’s right. The THC content of Dutch cannabis is often 20 to 25 per cent. That is the result of a very cynical drugs policy. Users can buy weed from a coffee shop, but when the shop’s getting hold of its stash, the government looks the other way. Producers remain criminalized and strive for higher THC levels to attain greater profit margins.

Photo Credit: Junta Nacional de Drogas

Jack Davies is a freelance journalist based in Belgrade. His work has been featured in Vice magazine and on The Information Daily. He can be found on Twitter under the handle @jackoozell

Jan De Deken is a freelance Latin America correspondent and regular contributor to some of the main news media in Belgium and the Netherlands. Follow Jan on Twitter at @JanDeDeken

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  • ||

    Looking at the picture it would appear that Uruguay has roads. Unpossible.

  • Snark Plissken||

    The have just begun their descent into anarcho-capitalist Somaliazaton, give them a few years.

  • kevin_hunt||

    Why was marijuana not a problem until the government of the U.S. made it a 'problem' in 1937? Could it have something to do with the govt wanting CONTROL of the population and new jobs for out-of-work alcohol prohibition agents?

    "There is positively no evidence to indicate the abuse of cannabis as medicinal agent or to show that its medical use is leading to the development of cannabis addiction. Cannabis at the present time is slightly used for medical purposes, but it would seem worthwhile to maintain its status as a medicinal agent for such purposes as it now has. There is a possibility that a restudy of the drug by modern means may show other advantages to be derived from its medical use. "

Testimony at the Atlantic City Convention of the American Medical Association, June 1937. "Report of Committee on Legislative Activities," JAMA, 108 (June 26, 1937): 2214.

  • SQRLSY One||

    I am just totally surprised… SHOCKED, even, as it were, that Uruguay has NOT yet fallen off of the face of the Earth, for having legalized the Demon Weed!!! What will they do next, legalize genocide?!?! Insecticide?!?! Mammalicide?!?! Gaia-icide?!?!

  • Edwin||

    I don't like Argentina/Uruguay. They're latin american countries, but they're more like the weirdo Europeans; more cat-like personalities

  • Metazoan||


  • prolefeed||

    Companies can get a license to cultivate if they meet all the criteria. However, this won’t be a free market. The government will control the entire production and determine the price, quality, and maximum production volume.

    Statist fucks gotta be statist fucks.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Why The Atlantic is a magazine for morons who want to feel smart.

    It's an article dissing BTC that hits EVERY fallacy. Ponzi scheme, deflation = evil/the depression, etc

    Is The Atlantic ever good? Is it anything other than warmed over consensus crap?

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    Paul Krugman explicitly said in an interview that Bitcoin could only work because people want it to be valuable. Federal notes work because 'men with guns' back up its value.

    A surprising moment of clarity and honesty from Krugabe.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Except he's still wrong. History is littered with dead currencies that had far more vigorous backing from men with guns. That only works in the short term if even that, and that's the only frame that Krugabe can 'think' in.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    I agree with you about his shortsightedness, but I'm just saying it's unusual to hear a liberal essentially admit that government is violence and it only works because our participation is coerced.

  • ||

    But was gold-pressed Latinum ever backed up by men with guns? I don't think so.

  • Warrren||


  • pan fried wylie||

    Looking to startrek for economic sense is like asking obama to tell the truth.

  • Warrren||

    Shut up, Obama promised me a replicator.

  • BakedPenguin||

    You're going to have to wait until he can make sure you can't make a plastic gun with it.

    Or a phaser.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    Cancellation notices being sung by a choir. And a Senator dressed up like an Eskimo...

    Chestnuts roasting by the open fire, conversations about health insurance in the air:

    — OFA (@OFA) December 15, 2013


  • ||

    That's two interceptions for the Seahawks. Poor Eli. He should be more careful.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    Washington residents: If you like what's in your bank account you can keep what's in your bank account

    Shannon Bruner of Indianola logged on to her checking account Monday morning, and found she was almost 800 dollars in the negative.

    “The first thing I thought was, ‘I got screwed,’” she said.
    The Bruners enrolled for insurance on the Washington Healthplanfinder website, last October. They say they selected the bill pay date to be December 24th. Instead the Washington Healthplanfinder drafted the 835 dollar premium Monday.

    Josh Bruner started his own business this year as an engineering recruiter. They said it’s forced them to pay a lot of attention to their bills and their bank accounts.
    They're not alone. One viewer emailed KING 5 saying, "They drafted my account this morning for a second time."

    Another woman on Facebook with a similar problem commented, "We are all in the same boat."

    “We've got to figure out how to get money to pay the bills for the next week or two until we have another check come through,” said Josh Bruner. “It's just crazy.”

    Washington Healthplanfinder emailed the Bruners a few days ago telling them to log in to view their invoice, something they couldn't do because the website has been down. The Bruners haven't been able to get through on the helpline either.

  • ||

    Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever allow direct withdrawals from your account. EVER. Not from Verizon, not from Comcast, not from the government most especially. EVER.

    Also, touchdown Seahawks.

  • Warrren||

    The Hawks don't need the help but it would be nice if the Bucs could at least challenge the 49ers.

  • ||

    Doubtful, but I'd like to see that as well.

  • Warrren||

    There we go. It won't be a shutout at least.

  • ||

    I'd also suggest not having emergency savings of $35, not that that excuses Healthplanfinder.

  • ||

    I'd also suggest not having emergency savings of $35, not that that excuses Healthplanfinder.

  • ||

    I'd also suggest not having emergency savings of $35, not that that excuses Healthplanfinder.

  • ||

    I'd also suggest not having emergency savings of $35, not that that excuses Healthplanfinder.

  • Snark Plissken||

    Dunno if this was already posted. Cop on Reddit explains that paid admin leave is a total drag.

    Even then, the Administrative Leave isn't fun. The take your badge and gun and you are basically on house arrest between the hours of 8am and 5pm on weekdays. You cannot leave your home without permission of your superiors, even it its just to go down the street to the bank or grocery store. You must be available to come into the office immediately at any time for questioning, polygraphs, or anything else involved in the investigation. Drink a beer? That's consuming alcohol on duty, you're fired. So even when officers are cleared of the charges and put back on the street, Admin. Leave still isn't "paid vacation."
  • db||

    Maybe they could use the time to take an online course to train for an honest career.

  • ||

    My god, that's almost as bad as the Bastille. I feel so terrible for him.

  • Dweebston||

    Since administrative leave is the LEO surrogate for arrest and prosecution, I maintain it's a sweet deal, officer.

  • amagi1776||

    Oh know! They take your badge and your gun. The horror.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    Many pages spent on blah blah blah about marijuana usage in some Latin American almost Banana Republic when millions of people in the world are starving to death. Looks like the Marxist there lost their priorities, if they ever had any to begin with.

  • Malcolm Kyle||

    If you support prohibition then prepare yourself for even more death, corruption, sickness, imprisonment, unemployment, and the complete loss of the rule of law.

    Neurotics build castles in the sky, psychotics live in them; the concept of a "Drug-Free Society" is a neurotic fantasy and Prohibition's ills are a product of this/your psychotic delusion.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    The Uruguayan solution reminds me of the "reasonable compromises" offered to libertarians by pols in this country: "Sure, we can end the drug war, as long as users register with the government and only purchase strictly limited amounts at government-licensed pharmacies. Sure, people can grow cannabis if they secure a government license and open their premises and financial books to unwarranted inspection by government agents at any time." Then, when libertarians rightly reject such deals, and propose some form of real liberty instead, the pols call them unreasonable and throw up their hands: "We tried to compromise, but these hard-core extremists are too stubborn for their own good. This is why libertarianism can never work and libertarians will never win..."

  • Ross Adams||

    Lulz! Sad but true

  • LIFE.time.opertunity||

  • Car Scanner||

    It's bad to heard the legalization of marijuana.

  • pronomian||

    The idiots in Colorado should heed this, "That's the going price on the black market, which we need to compete with. Not more expensive, but not cheaper either."


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