Supporting Uruguay in the Legal Regulation of Marijuana

Two years ago, in my capacity as chairman of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, I made a public call for the decriminalization of drug use and for experimentation with models of legal regulation. I and my colleagues did so recognizing that drug prohibition had failed on many levels. For too long, it has represented a waste of precious government resources, which has had few benefits for public safety and health. We encouraged experimentation with legal regulation because we believe it will undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard health and security. For this reason, I believe the current proposal to regulate marijuana in Uruguay is worthy of serious consideration.

There are a number of factors driving the need for regulatory control in Uruguay and many other parts of the world. While marijuana users in Uruguay do not face the kinds of repressive measures that are enforced in a number of countries, many still remain engaged in a criminal black market. These people are effectively steered to a lawless retail market that does not (at least not as a matter of policy) refuse sales to minors, express concern for those who develop problems or certify the product for sanitary requirements, and it ensures that the supply chain remains in a context of violence and crime.

These are just a few of the dangers to people who use marijuana. But the market itself creates additional concerns.

The revenues of this market bleed into an informal economy -- the extent of which can only be guessed at. Reports have estimated the size of the marijuana market in Uruguay to be around $30 million to $40 million. How much of this money is used to corrupt the security forces along the borders of source countries? How much of this money is used to bribe police or is laundered through financial institutions?

These are not impacts of drug use. They are impacts of a policy that does not accept real-world conditions.

The government's proposal does not appear to make revenue generation the focus of its effort but rather the promotion of public health and safety. But it also stands to reason that this proposal could be an addition by subtraction. Simply taking this money out of the black market could be a benefit in and of itself.

As in all corners of the world, transforming drug policy generates controversies, supporters and detractors. In Uruguay, a diverse group of social organizations and notable individuals have created Regulación Responsable ("Responsible Regulation"), a platform that aims to enrich the public debate through real information and by making visible support for the initiative to legally regulate marijuana. With much enthusiasm, I endorse the Uruguayan proposal and adhere to Regulación Responsable.

This op-ed was run in Spanish and Portuguese in Grupo de Diarios America.