As Uruguay slowly rolls out it its historic marijuana regulation law, a new poll shows that not only are the majority of Uruguayans skeptical of the measure, there is a lack of consensus about the official logic behind it as well.
El Pais reports on the results of a Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) survey conducted in Uruguay recently, which asked respondents about their attitudes towards the new law. Unsurprisingly, the poll found that around two-thirds of respondents -- 59.9 percent -- said they opposed it, a number that has stayed roughly constant (dropping by perhaps a few points) since President Jose Mujica first proposed marijuana legalization in mid-2012. What is surprising, however, is the wide variation in perceptions of the reasoning behind the measure.
Despite the fact that the issue has dominated local headlines for months, 18.5 percent of Uruguayans said they did not know why the government was moving to regulate the black market for marijuana. And even though civil society groups like the Regulacion Responsable coalition have been organizing forums and running an extensive public awareness campaign over the past year to flesh out the government’s discourse on the issue, the largest bloc of respondents -- 37 percent -- said they believe that the goal of the law is to prevent crime and combat drug trafficking, which is the narrative most commonly put forward by the Mujica administration.
The other main arguments used by marijuana regulation advocates -- that the law will address an existing social reality that is currently unchecked, and that it will improve public health by increasing access to medicinal marijuana and reducing users’ exposure to more harmful drugs -- did not appear to register. Just 10 percent said they believed the law aimed to address an existing reality, and 6.6 percent said health reasons were the motive for its passage.
Meanwhile, 10 percent believed the marijuana regulation law was passed to bring in money, 5.5 percent said it was an attempt to get an electoral boost, and 12.3 percent gave other responses, which according to El Pais included that the law is “due to other interests and that it seeks to distract people from real problems.”
All of this suggests that, deliberately or not, the law has been sold to the public largely as a citizen security initiative, and -- as I have argued in the past -- will likely be evaluated on these terms. Unfortunately for supporters of the law, crime trends do not appear to be on the government’s side at the moment. Homicides, which saw a record high in 2012, remained stable over the course of last year, and both violent and non-violent robberies saw slight increases in 2013, according to official figures released in April.
While Uruguay has one of the lowest crime rates in the Americas, security is a major issue right now. Compared to elsewhere in the region, the country is behind only Venezuela in terms of the percentage who list insecurity as their greatest concern (36 compared to 47 percent). With October’s presidential elections fast approaching, the link between marijuana and security policy could leave the ruling Frente Amplio coalition vulnerable to criticism from the opposition.
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