EspañolLatin America is the world’s most dangerous region. The drug war not only fuels our cities’ homicide rates, it overcrowds our prisons, corrupts our politicians and security forces, murders our journalists, and drives our youth to join vicious gangs.
However, this might be about to change. A wave of drug-policy reforms, specially regarding marijuana, offers a glimmer of hope. While still a far cry from full liberalization, encouraging initiatives emerged in the last year in Chile, Colombia, and Mexico.
Uruguay paved the way with marijuana legalization in 2014, even though the heavy role assigned to the state has resulted in delays in the legal distribution and sale of marijuana.
In July, Chile’s Chamber of Deputies passed a bill that would legalize the cultivation of up to six marijuana plants, and allow Chileans to carry up to 10 grams for both recreational and medicinal purposes.
While the legislation awaits discussion in the Senate, the executive has taken steps to scale back the country’s prohibitionist approach.
In early December, President Michelle Bachelet signed a decree removing marijuana from the state’s list of dangerous substances. From now on, “the Institute of Public Health will be able to authorize and control the use of cannabis and cannabis extracts and dyes for the production of pharmaceuticals,” the document reads. Scientific research involving marijuana will no longer be illegal.
Thanks to a special executive authorization, an NGO in alliance with the La Florida municipality in Santiago harvested the first batch of 450 plants to produce a medicinal oil in April, which benefited some 200 cancer patients.
After a year of bureaucratic red tape, a bill drafted by Liberal Party Congressman Juan Manuel Galán which regulates the use of medical marijuana recently got the Colombian Senate’s approval. It must now undergo a similar process in the Chamber of Deputies.
But President Juan Manuel Santos didn’t want to wait another year. He unveiled a decree regulating the “production, manufacture, export, distribution, trade, use, and possession” of marijuana, marijuana seeds, and related products for “strictly medicinal and scientific purposes.”
The Colombian president has yet to sign it, but it would be a significant step in a country that has been deeply affected by the drug war.
After experiencing some of the most horrific violence in recent memory, Mexico is now beginning to reconsider its drug war.
Grace, a chronically ill eight-year-old girl, has become a symbol for anti-prohibition activists. In September, a Mexican federal judge authorized Grace’s family to import a cannabis-derived medicinal oil, sparking a national debate.
Two months later, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled to relax marijuana laws. The court authorized four people to cultivate, grow, harvest, transport, and consume marijuana for recreational purposes. Even though the ruling doesn’t automatically strike down prohibition, lower courts will now be compelled to follow its guidelines, paving the way for hundreds of writs of protection to allow the use of cannabis.
Other initiatives beyond legalization have also emerged. In December, a congressman from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) introduced a bill to grant amnesty to those charged and convicted for carrying less than 30 grams of marijuana.
Setbacks in Uruguay, Ecuador
Pharmacies in Uruguay were supposed to start selling legal marijuana this year, but bureaucracy and politics have stood in the way. It is not fatal, but it’s indicative of how ineffective a policy can be when the state, not the market, is in charge. Two years after legalization, the first legal crop will be available for sale in mid 2016.
As for the Ecuadorian government, it is apparently not enough to crack down on protesters, free speech, and economic freedom. The ruling party-controlled National Assembly has toughened penalties against the retail drug trade. One congressman even admitted that he didn’t believe the measure would be effective, but he voted for it anyway: “We, the PAIS Alliance legislators, will always vote as a bloc, following a political project,” he said.
In Argentina, despite a change in government, the drug war is poised to only get worse.
2016: Legal Marijuana in More US States, Canada
In 2016, the UN General Assembly will convene a special session on drugs. The Americas will then have the chance to argue for change in drug-war policies on a global scale, despite a sizable opposition in the international community.
However, it won’t be the only front for anti-prohibition efforts.