The government of Uruguay is once again engaged in a dispute with United Nations officials over recent criticism of its marijuana regulation initiative, insisting that the law is a well-reasoned approach to dealing with illicit demand for the drug.
On Monday, the UN anti-drugs chief indicated disagreement with Uruguay’s law and marijuana legalization in general. In remarks to the press in Vienna, UN Office on Drugs and Crime Director Yury Fedotov said that while UN member states have the prerogative to make their own policies, legalization “is not a solution to the drug problem.” On Uruguay’s marijuana measure, the UNODC head remarked that it was “very hard to say that this law is fully in line with legal provisions of the drug control conventions.”
As EFE reports, these remarks come just as the UNODC is set to present a report this week recommending decriminalizing drug consumption as an effective way to address prison overcrowding and reallocate resources to drug treatment and rehabilitation.
The irony of this was not lost on Uruguay’s National Drug Secretary, Julio Calzada, who criticized Fedotov in a Reuters interview published yesterday. “They are looking at the supply chain and [want to] leave it all prohibited but decriminalize consumption,” Calzada said. “This is going in a positive direction but we have advanced a little more, as we’ve already done this.” Marijuana use has been effectively decriminalized in Uruguay since 1974, when the military dictatorship passed a law allowing judges to use their discretion in cases where individuals possessed small amounts of drugs intended for personal use. But because marijuana sales and cultivation remained illegal, the recently-passed law was billed as a solution to this decades-old legal “contradiction.”
This exchange is only the latest in a series of confrontations between the Uruguayan government and UN drug policy officials. The most publicized of these came immediately after the law’s passage in December, when President Jose Mujica responded to International Narcotics Control Board head Raymond Yans’ lamentations that Uruguayan officials would not meet with him by saying: “Tell that guy to stop lying. Anyone can meet me in the street. He should come to Uruguay and come meet me anytime.”
More recently, Mujica again clashed with the INCB, remarking to a gathering of regional human rights lawyers last week that the treaty-monitoring body “has no idea” about the reality of drugs in his country, as El Pais reports.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that Mujica has continued to frame the law -- which will begin to go into effect in less than a month, on April 9th -- as an experiment, insisting that the government will not hesitate to back away from it should the law fail. According to the president:
"Humanity has given us a lot (...) and we have an obligation to try to do an experiment with all the levelheadedness and devotion of the creative spirit to try to find different ways to combat this scourge. If we achieve something it will be for the benefit of humanity, and if we are wrong we will have the political courage to say: ‘we were wrong.’”
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