Uruguay Is Facing Down The UN Over The Future Of Drug Laws

This week, the small South American nation of Uruguay did something that made opponents of the drug war all over the world rejoice: It legalized the sale and consumption of marijuana for recreational use.

While it was already legal to smoke marijuana in the country, thanks to a 16-13 vote in the Senate, Uruguayan adults will soon be able to buy a maximum of 40 grams (1.4 ounces) each month from state licensed and regulated pharmacies. They will also be able to six marijuana plants or as much as 480 grams in their homes a year and form smoking clubs of 15 to 45 members that can grow up to 99 plants per year. These sort of laws will make marijuana legislation evangelists weep.

Not everyone, however, is happy with Uruguay’s move.

The U.N.’s drug watchdog, International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), almost immediately came out against the legislation. In a statement, the president of the INCB, Raymond Yans, said he was “surprised that a legislative body that has endorsed an international law and agreements, and a Government that is an active partner in international cooperation and in the maintenance of the international rule of law, knowingly decided to break the universally agreed and internationally endorsed legal provisions of the [1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs].”

The 1961 Single Convention treaty is an international treaty designed to prohibit the production and supply of specific drugs, including marijuana. Under the treaty, marijuana is only allowed to be sold if it is used for medical or scientific purposes.

“The decision of the Uruguayan legislature fails to consider its negative impacts on health since scientific studies confirm that cannabis is an addictive substance with serious consequences for people’s health,” Yans statement continues. “In particular, the use and abuse of cannabis by young people can seriously affect their development.”

The sternly worded statement may give Uruguay’s left-wing President José Mujica pause for thought. Mujica, a former guerrilla fighter known for his exceptionally frugal lifestyle, had backed the bill in a bid to end drug-related violence in the country. Opposition to the bill has been fierce, with some politicians branding it “barbaric.” Reuters cites one recent poll that says 58 per cent of Uruguayans oppose legalizing pot.

Still, there are signs that the international consensus is splitting on marijuana, with some de facto legalization in place in Canada, the Netherlands, and Israel, as well as the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington. This is being reflected in the U.N. handling of drugs. Writing for CNN, John Collins, coordinator of the LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project, notes that leaked reports from a key U.N. drugs strategy this month show discord between different nations. In particular, South American nations are sick of being collateral damage in the drug war.

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