Thursday, July 10, 2014

Uruguay May Delay Marijuana Sales, Or Maybe Not

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has said that his country’s plan to sell commercially-grown cannabis in pharmacies may be pushed back to 2015, but these remarks were immediately walked back by top administration officials, who said the effort to make the drug available in December would go forward as planned.

In a Wednesday interview, Mujica told the AFP that the plan to sell cannabis by the end of the year would be delayed due to “practical difficulties.” The news agency reported that the president admitted it would be problematic to sell the drug just before or during the March inauguration of the next president following October elections. According to Mujica, rushing the law would mean potentially “making a mess,” so it was best to implement it slowly.

He also referred to the increasing number of U.S. states that are allowing consumption of medical marijuana, calling the practice “liberalization with an alarming degree of irresponsibility.”

But while Mujica’s remarks about a supposed delay are featured prominently in the international press today, Presidential Under-Secretary Diego Canepa (who holds a position similar to chief of staff in the U.S., and has been heavily involved in rolling out the new law) was quick to temper the president’s words in the local media. Just after the AFP published their report, Canepa told local paper El Observador that Mujica’s statement had been “misinterpreted.”

“The government continues to work towards the sale of marijuana in pharmacies late this year. The private licensing and development of greenhouses [for commercial cultivation] are already being worked on,” Canepa said. The official said the administration still hopes to have commercial cannabis available “by the end of the year, in mid-December.”

However, Canepa conceded that delays are a possibility, despite the official plan. “The president conveyed that there could be a couple of months’ delay, but this will depend on the timing of production and not a [government] decision,” he told El Observador.

The “practical difficulties” Mujica spoke of are in fact formidable. The Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA), the law’s newly created regulatory body, launched a bidding process just last week to provide licenses to the two to five commercial growers that officials believe are necessary to satisfy demand for the drug. The process will take five weeks, after which contracts will be awarded and companies can begin setting up greenhouses and other necessary infrastructure. Under this timeline, the companies will have four months to grow and harvest to make the December deadline.  

Still, there is a sizeable financial incentive involved for growers to get production up and running as soon as possible. An anonymous Uruguayan official recently told Reuters that the government estimates commercial growers stand to make between $250 -$300,000 per ton produced, with an initial investment of one million dollars. With cultivation for the estimated 18-22 ton annual market set to be shared among between two and six different companies, this means each one could stand to make at least one million dollars per year -- over the course of a renewable, five-year contract -- if cultivation is divided equally among them.  However, the same official said the government planned to commission just 5-10 tons of the drug initially rather than risk flooding the market.


News Briefs
  • Today’s New York Times features a report on the impact of gang violence in fueling the recent wave of undocumented immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border, noting that U.S. Border Patrol statistics show a strong correlation between the origin cities of migrants and violent hotspots in Central America like Honduras’ San Pedro Sula.
  • U.S. President Obama sent a request to Congress on Tuesday for $3.7 billion in supplemental funds to address the immigration crisis along the border. Politico notes that the request does not include language calling for speedier deportations, though the administration made clear it is seeking to accelerate processing times for detained immigrants. Analyst James Bosworth points out that of the total funding request, only around $300 million would go directly to Central America to address the root causes of the spike in immigration, like gang violence. Meanwhile, Obama traveled to Texas yesterday to attend a meeting on immigration, where he pressured Gov. Rick Perry to help overcome Republican opposition to the funding request, the NYT reports.
  • National Security Archives’ Peter Kornbluh looks at recently-released State Department documents that detail torture practices of the Brazilian military government, which were transferred to the Brazilian National Truth Commission (CNV) last month and subsequently posted online. One of the most shocking documents, from April 1973, details the military’s increasing reliance on claiming that imprisoned activists were killed in shootouts trying to escape, when in fact they died from torture.
  • The Guardian reports on the impact of a proposed UK-Colombia bilateral investment treaty, which some human rights groups claim could threaten the peace process in the South American country. Because the deal would allow investors to sue the Colombian government for alleged unfair treatment, activists claim it will pose a barrier to land reform, one of the key issues of the peace talks in Havana.
  • Also on the peace process, La Silla Vacia has an analysis of conflict victims’ efforts to get a seat at the table in the peace negotiations, noting  that the process of choosing representatives is marked by internal differences between victims' groups with different political grievances.
  • The administration of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has reached an agreement with the opposition to secure support for a historic tax reform measure after weeks of negotiation, one of the pillars of Bachelet’s campaign promises. According to La Tercera, the bill will raise the corporate tax rate to 27 percent by 2017, up from 20 percent.
  • Following Brazil’s devastating loss to Germany in Tuesday’s World Cup match, a number of analysts have raised questions over whether it could fuel anti-government protests or impact the re-election campaign of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Slate’s Joshua Keating argues that it might, Bloomberg cites analysts who believe that the game’s effect will be negligible. The Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Futterman, however, asserts that speculating on the political impact of the loss is an insult to the maturity of Brazilians.
  • While Bolivian President Evo Morales made headlines in May after he was offered a position as a midfielder on a first-division soccer club in the country, he has declined the offer, La Razon reports.  According to BBC Mundo, the president cited “physical reasons” for not pursuing a further soccer career.
  • U.S. diplomats carried out the latest round of biannual talks with Cuba on immigration issues in Washington yesterday. While Cuban officials raised concerns about the U.S. “wet foot, dry foot” approach to Cuban immigration, the U.S. State Department said they addressed the continued imprisonment of USAID contractor Alan Gross in what it characterized as “routine” talks, according to the Associated Press.
  • The Miami Herald reports on the recent admission by an apparent Cuban dissident that he was in fact a government infiltrator trying to sow discord among opposition groups. He has since confessed and attempted to distance himself from state security, but has said that he lives in fear of government retaliation.