Monday, May 5, 2014

Uruguay Fleshes Out its Marijuana Law

After repeated delays, on Friday the government of Uruguay finally released the accompanying regulations of its marijuana law, a major development in the establishment of the world’s first fully-regulated cannabis market.

Following the press conference, held by Presidential Under-Secretary Diego Canepa and Julio Calzada, secretary general of the National Drug Council (JND), there was a flurry of reporting. Local and international media picked up on their confirmation that the drug would be sold at roughly $1 per gram, their comments that “between two and six” entities would be licensed to grow the drug commercially, and that it would be available for recreational and medicinal use in pharmacies in late November or early December.  

Interestingly, none of these details are actually in the text of the implementation guidelines that President Jose Mujica will sign today, and have presumably been left up to the Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA), the law’s new regulatory body. Incidentally, it was revealed on Friday that Calzada will serve as the first IRCCA president, which is understandable considering how active he has been in championing the law. UPDATE May 14: While this is in fact what Canepa said at the conference, the JND's representation in the IRCCA leadership will actually be Augusto Vitale, a drug policy expert with the National Drug Secretariat.

Meanwhile, much of the actual content of the document itself has gone unreported. This makes sense. After all, there is plenty to sift through in the regulations, like their additional requirements for the 15-45 member “cannabis clubs” (they must educate members on responsible use) new distribution rules (commercial growers can store the drug on-site only, and ship it directly to pharmacies) or further restrictions on purchases (10 grams per week, narrowed down from 40 grams per month in the law). Many of these will only kick in when the first commercial marijuana becomes available in late 2014.

But one of the most important elements in the new rules will go into effect even before the drug becomes commercially available. When the IRCCA registry is up and running a 180-day “amnesty period” will begin, during which individuals who had previously grown their own pot illegally will be allowed to register their plants with authorities. Under the law, households may keep up to six plants, with a maximum yield of 480 grams annually. So long as these conditions are met, Uruguayans will have six months to register their currently clandestine crops. Afterwards, the IRCCA will only accept applications seeking prior permission to grow cannabis, and unlicensed growth will be subject to sanctions.

This is a major victory for alternative drug policies, and fits with the overarching logic behind the marijuana law. As Uruguayan civil society advocates, Calzada and President Mujica himself have all said: the measure is about recognizing an existing social reality. Like it or not, there is a market for the drug, which is mostly dominated by criminal and frequently violent elements. By allowing people to come out and register their own plants without fear of repercussion for the first time in the country’s history, Uruguayan authorities are taking an important first step towards bringing the black market into the light.

News Briefs
  • Yesterday’s election in Panama saw a major blow to outgoing President Ricardo Martinelli, who was widely seen as attempting to hold onto power through his chosen successor, Jose Domingo Arias. La Prensa notes that while polls in the lead-up to Sunday’s vote gave Arias a slim advantage, he ultimately lost to Vice President Juan Carlos Varela by seven percentage points (32 compared to Varela’s 39 percent). Juan Carlos Navarro, of the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party, came in third place with 28 percent of the vote. As the AP reports, one of Varela’s central campaign promises has been to end the corruption seen under Martinelli’s administration.
  • A standoff between Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and the indigenous community harboring three opposition figures accused of defaming him appears to be heating up. While the Sarayacu have called for a mediated dialogue over the situation, Correa rejected this yesterday, saying there was “nothing to negotiate,” according to BBC Mundo.
  • UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez’s visit to Mexico came to an end on Friday with the UN rights champion holding a press conference to announce his preliminary findings. According to Mendez, there continues to be evidence of torture committed by all levels of security forces in the country, labeling the practice “widespread.” EFE notes that Mendez said torture was not deliberately or systematically ordered by authorities, but rather occurred during interrogations and following arrests of suspects by military and police. Animal Politico has a copy of Mendez’s full statement, which outlines the reasoning behind his remarks.
  • Writing for the New Yorker’s News Desk blog, Patrick Radden Keefe also takes a look at torture in Mexico. For his widely-circulated account of the manhunt for Sinaloa Cartel kingpin “El Chapo” Guzman, Keefe spoke with a former DEA agent who directly linked the arrest with information obtained by allegedly torturing of some of the cartel leader’s accomplices. This set off a debate over whether the case amounted to a real-life case of the “ticking time-bomb scenario,” in which some claim that torture can be justified. However, Keefe argues against characterizing the case this way, and points out that interrogation provided only some of the intelligence that led to Guzman’s arrest.
  • El Faro’s Sala Negra looks at prison violence in Honduras, where some of the worst mass killings in the region’s history have taken place. The news site examines a handful of the most recent incidents, noting the overcrowding and poor conditions that are hallmarks of the country’s penal system.
  • Former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores, who is accused of embezzlement and illicit enrichment, has taken refuge in Panama, where he has reportedly requested political amnesty. Over the weekend, President Mauricio Funes formally called on his Panamanian counterpart not to grant the request.
  • The latest round of negotiations between FARC rebels and the Colombian government ended on Sunday, with both sides still unable to reach a draft agreement on drugs and drug trafficking, the issue currently on the table. Still, the AFP reports that the guerrillas say they are “close” to reaching a deal with officials, and that rebel negotiators say they have also placed an emphasis on combating money laundering as well. The next round will begin on May 12.
  • Progress appears to have been made in the ongoing rural protests in Colombia, which echo last year’s “agrarian strike” that took a toll on President Santos’ approval ratings. According to Radio Caracaol, the government has begun negotiating with the striking farmers.
  • On Friday, Venezuelan authorities announced that 58 foreigners had been arrested in connection with the recent unrest in the country, with Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres listing an American, a Spaniard and an Arab among the “mercenaries” accused of inciting violence. In other Venezuela news, officials are investigating the Sunday murder of bodyguard of President Maduro, who was gunned down yesterday while driving in Caracas, El Universal reports.
  • Guatemala’s Plaza Publica profiles Thelma Aldana, who is believed to be President Otto Perez Molina’s likely nomination for the next Attorney General. As the news site points out, she is also suspected of having ties to the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) party of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt.