Uruguay is on the brink of becoming the first country to create a legal, regulated marijuana market, and the South American nation had a little help from Washington state’s leading drug policy reformer, Alison Holcomb, the primary author of Initiative 502.
Holcomb visited Uruguay three times last spring at the invitation of the national Junta Nacional de Drogas, Uruguay’s version of the U.S. drug czar’s office (the Office of National Drug Control Policy) and other non-government groups working for legalization. The groups consulted Holcomb on her drafting of I-502, which enacted a state-regulated recreational marijuana system, and on campaign strategy for the initiative, which passed with 56 percent of the statewide vote.
Holcomb said she continues to participate in weekly calls with Regulación Responsable, the coalition carrying on public education and outreach to support the bill.
Uruguay’s legalization plan was approved by its lower legislative chamber, its equivalent of the U.S. House of Representatives. It now moves to the Senate, where approval is expected.
Smoking pot has been legal Uruguay, a nation of 3.4 million people. But growing, buying or selling has resulted in prison terms. If passed, the country’s new law would license growers and sellers and allow people to buy up to 40 grams a month at pharmacies.
“Uruguay is breaking open the conversation in Latin America,” said Holcomb, criminal-justice project director for the ACLU of Washington state. “This is critical to global reformation of marijuana policy. Uruguay’s rejection of the prohibition model will accelerate conversations that are already happening in Guatemala, Colombia and Mexico.”
The presidents of Colombia and Guatemala have called for decriminalizing drugs, as has the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox.