In the US, we celebrated when Colorado and Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Now in Uruguay, marijuana advocates across the entire country are in celebration as they became the first in the world to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana nationwide. While critics are angry to see the continued chipping away of their failed War on Drugs, Uruguay’s leaders believe it’s a positive move to end the violence and crime connected to prohibition there.
“I think it’s a fatal blow to the already dying war on drugs,” said Hannah Hetzer, of the Americas at the Drug Policy Alliance, according to the Huffington Post. “If they do it right, other countries will follow their lead and we’ll see a post-marijuana prohibition world.”
Many share her sentiments, hoping Uruguay can “do it right”. Done right, they can show the world that marijuana can be responsibly regulated and used at far less economic and social costs than it can be outlawed.
What many people don’t know about the country is that marijuana use was already legal, but it wasn’t legal to sell or purchase it. So, users there could imbibe but would have to be covert in their transactions. In that regard, the legislation was a small, but significant step.
Lawmakers in Uruguay have led the way in the fight against prohibition. Unlike in the US, where citizens want it legalized and the majority of lawmakers do not, citizens of Uruguay were opposed to legalization. An estimated 58% of Uruguayans were opposed to the passage.
“Someone has to start revealing the taboos with regards to marijuana in Latin America. There are so many taboos to break. Uruguay, because it is a small country, can do it,” President Jose “Pepe” Mujica said in a February interview. “Maybe I am wrong about this but if I am, give me another solution because prohibitionist policy failed and we have been repressing for 50 years and look at how Mexico is.”
Mujica is a former leftist guerrilla who spent 14 years in prison for his opposition work. Despite his warrior personality, the 78-year old says he’s never personally tried marijuana.
“There’s so much interest in what Uruguay is doing, because there’s so much awareness that our current approach isn’t working,” Hetzer said. “If Uruguay does this well, which I’m confident it will, there will be other countries that follow suit soon.”