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EDITORIAL - Ganja legalisation gaining traction

Published:Saturday | August 3, 2013 | 12:00 AM

THE WORLD is watching, with keen eyes, as legislators in Montevideo inch ever so close to making Uruguay the first country ever to legalise the production, sale and use of ganja. The bill narrowly passed the lower House Thursday, by a 50 to 46 vote, and is expected to be successful in the Senate later this year.

The bill provides that Uruguay's government will license growers, sellers and consumers, who must be 18 years, and update a confidential registry to keep persons from buying more than 40 grams a month at pharmacies. That essentially places the government at the centre of the marijuana trade - regulating its production, sale and taxation.

So legalisation will not signal a free-for-all regime. According to the provisions, anyone found carrying, growing or selling ganja without a licence could be sent to prison on conviction. Driving under the influence is also a punishable offence.

Preoccupied with freedom celebrations, many Jamaicans may not have taken any notice of this development occurring more than 6,000 miles away, in a country with a population of three million, but it certainly marks a new, rather interesting chapter in the global debate about ganja. In this new dispensation, Uruguay is acting as a spoiler to narco traffickers who reportedly made between US$30 and 40 million dollars in profit last year.

This is about more than one country's decision, for Uruguay's move will help to strengthen the hands of other governments in the Latin and South American region which have argued, repeatedly, that legalisation is a strategy to combat the violence and criminality of the drug trade by removing the profits that are inherent in prohibition. Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala have been among those clamouring for alternative strategies to the United States (US)-backed war on drugs.

The region has been through some terrible years as drug cartels bombarded communities with their violence and used their enormous wads of cash to corrupt law-enforcement officials, the judiciary and others in authority.

MOVEMENT GAINING TRACTION

Uruguay's President José Mujica, growing in stature as a regional leader, has already seen through the legalisation of gay marriages and abortion laws. In stressing the failure of the US-initiated war on drugs, he cited the fact that for every 10 deaths attributed to drug abuse, roughly 100 persons are murdered by traffickers.

This decision by Uruguay will likely be greeted by a blast of scorn from the US government. Already, there are warnings to Uruguay that it ought to tread cautiously, lest there be violations of treaty obligations. The United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board issued a statement after the vote, urging Uruguay to "ensure that the country remains fully compliant with international law which limits the use of narcotic drugs, including cannabis".

But the Obama administration must surely recognise that as the world becomes less prohibitive, the legalisation movement is gaining traction. It needs to look no further than the States of Colorado and Washington, which have legalised marijuana use, to see that the world is changing its perspective on how to tackle the drug war.

For ganja-producing countries like Jamaica and others across the region, it is a difficult job to confront the drug trade, especially with a declining job market and rising cost of living, but its effects are much too scary to ignore.

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