Uruguay passes pot legalization law

Uruguay marijuana legalisation update.

I dare say Mark will want to comment on this, but I’ll beat him to the punch with the news. Uruguay’s Senate has passed the marijuana legalization law by a party-line vote. Text in Spanish of the version passed by the lower house of parliament. Infographic in English on the new policy. It’s not clear whether there were any amendments in the Senate, but I suppose the news reports would have covered anything major. The act still has to be signed by the President, Jose Mujica – a foregone conclusion as he was its prime mover. More important, according to TPM:

Uruguay’s drug control agency will have 120 days, until mid-April, to draft regulations imposing state control over the entire market for marijuana, from seed to smoke.

I haven’t seen anything on Uruguay’s next move under the UN Single Treaty – denunciation, reservation, or (most ambitiously) proposing a rewrite.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

15 thoughts on “Uruguay passes pot legalization law”

  1. Re: “I haven’t seen anything on Uruguay’s next move under the UN Single Treaty – denunciation, reservation, or (most ambitiously) proposing a rewrite.”

    Well, since they haven’t done any of the above, technically they will be in violation of the convention as soon as the act is signed. So, they seem to have opted for the Gordian solution (i.e., ignoring the presumptive rules altogether).

    In addition to this the following saying was current concerning the wagon, that whosoever could loosen the cord of the yoke of this wagon, was destined to gain the rule of Asia. The cord was made of cornel bark, and neither end nor beginning to it could be seen. It is said by some that when Alexander could find out no way to loosen the cord and yet was unwilling to allow it to remain unloosened, lest this should exercise some disturbing influence upon the multitude, he struck it with his sword and cutting it through, said that it had been loosened. But Aristobulus says that he pulled out the pin of the wagon-pole, which was a wooden peg driven right through it, holding the cord together. Having done this, he drew out the yoke from the wagon-pole. How Alexander performed the feat in connection with this cord, I cannot affirm with confidence.

    The Campaigns of Alexander, by Arrian of Nicomedia (translation by E.J. Chinnock).

    1. I always thought the treaty argument was basically the worst argument against legalization. It’s not that I think any country should willy-nilly disobey treaties, but treaties generally suffer from a “how many divisions does the Pope have?” problem– if a country really objects to a principle of international law and doesn’t want to obey it, it can do so as long as it is either sufficiently powerful (the US and the Convention Against Torture, Japan and Norway on whaling) or has powerful allies (Israel on non-proliferation).

      If the US, or any US state, refuses to abide by the Single Convention, that’s not going to harm the US; it’s going to harm the Single Convention. Uruguay will get away with it too.

      Now, you could argue that countries have a moral obligation to obey international law, or at least treaties they sign. But that depends on the moral content of the treaty. The Single Convention, by grossly restricting people’s freedom and grossly constricting the power of governments to engage in any sort of sensible drug policy, by leading to mass imprisonment and civil wars, by imposing a prohibitionist mindset on something that can’t really be prohibited, has very little moral force.

      If someone could convince me that disobeying the Single Convention could cause some indirect impact on the enforcement of some treaty that actually matters to me, I might be swayed. Absent that, however, the Single Convention is a complete distraction. We ignore it, it goes away.

    2. Generally, I’m OK with observing international agreements. The US government rather scandalously picks and chooses which it is willing to observe on any given day and has never let one stand in the way of what it saw as its needs. Generally, that’s boorish and uncivil behavior and we have far too much of that already, but…

      The Single Convention is the modern equivalent to the Fugitive Slave Act. It was a bad thing when it came into force and has only gotten more problematic with each passing year. Moreover, it also represents the very tail end of colonial overreach, as if the white man could formally withdraw from his burden of world domination, yet leave his cultural and psychic chains in place as a world standard. Curiously absent from the Convention are alcohol and tobacco. Some might argue caffeine is missing also, although that’s taking things way too far in my book.

      If all you got left is an argument that the Single Convention is going to stand in the way of cannabis reform, then you’re standing on quicksand. I certainly imagine someone in Uruguay — and probably Washington DC, too — is working themselves into a lather over this right now, but that’s only proof some people have way too much time on their hands and nothing else really effective in their anti-drug jihad’s quiver at this point.

      1. As much as I think the war on drugs is stupid, I do not think the Single Convention is anything like the Fugitive Slave Act. There’s a loss of liberty when bad drug laws are passed, I wish people would take the loss of liberty more seriously (I think they don’t because they generally dislike recreational drug users), and I think that’s a big part of the problem with the War on Drugs. But even the most restrictive drug law on earth doesn’t do anything like what was depicted in “12 Years a Slave”.

        Slavery analogies, like holocaust analogies, need to be used sparingly.

        1. Well, that proves your point, I suppose. I tried to be clear enough that I was speaking of the problem of insisting that laws, treaties, etc that are socially archaic on their face somehow remain objects of obsession by those with a little bit of power and a whole lot of hubris about “teaching people a lesson” as one Vermont police chief recently described his attitude towards drug reform of any kind.

          No, I wasn’t trying to make a comparison between relative loss of liberty, just to make an analogy about the enforceability of laws that everyone knows are passe.

          An important point to consider for the drug-war-dead-enders fighting against majority opinion and still — quite temporarily — with some ability to enforce their will on others…

          If this gets settled in relatively short order, the police realize they need to move on to more productive and socially acceptable lines of work, then a little whining about treaties being violated, laws being broken, whatever, is OK.

          But keep throwing people in prison, passing ever more ridiculous legal sanctions, insisting the “law if the law…” — then you’re courting some serious backlash. This isn’t a situation where the status quo is where if they stand pat we’ll all just back down and realize “they’re the adults…” will stand, as the drug czar, Mr. Kerlikowske, seemed to be doing this week with his desperate appeal for science to save prohibition by finally coming up with some solid evidence of the evils of marijuana to justify another 80 years of repression.

          One need not be a slave to rise up in resistance to such gross injustice. So, yeah, no need for direct slavery analogies. But that doesn’t take a single iota away from our despicably racially biased “justice” system either. I’ll leave it to the my African-American brothers and sisters to address that. My white skin privilege simply doesn’t permit me to make that kind of argument, because the government doesn’t approach their freedom sparingly.

  2. My understanding is that Uruguay has decided neither to challenge the treaties nor to openly defy them. Instead the plan is to interpret them out of existence, by claiming legalization as a “health measure.”

    1. If that’s so, it’s a pity. Uruguay, as a sovereign state, has a perfect right to denounce the treaty (while saying that it will continue to apply the non-cannabis parts). For those of us who care about the fragile flower of international law, it should be encouraged to do so. That way Uruguay could start a global reform movement.
      But I can see the pragmatic point of stalling. It the reform works, then try to get others to join in. One plan might be to get a regional negotiation going in Latin America. Vienna would be forced to react to save its global system.

      1. I would not be surprised if they first focus on trying to make it work and selling their own population on it, most of whom are currently opposed. But in any event, there will be a confrontation with the UN INCB no matter what they do, because unlike the Washington and Colorado case, there is no federalist “out” in this case.

        1. What’s the UN going to do? Invade Uruguay?

          There will be no confrontation. There’s no significant support in any democratic first world country to punish Uruguay over this.

    1. The INCB should get a life. There’s customary international law, which is binding on states unless they sign treaties to the contrary, rather like the principles of common law; the standards of human rights and arguably humanitarian law, which reflect the moral sense of the global community, and have at least moral force even if denounced; and bread-and-butter treaty law, which is binding entirely by the stated consent of the parties, like a civil contract. (I leave out quasi-federal pacts like the EU, a special case that’s irrelevant here). The INCB seems to be claiming that the drugs control conventions are in the second category not the third. They are wrong.

      1. Generally, even if there were a customary international law norm requiring that governments ban marijuana (and there isn’t), it still wouldn’t be enforceable against Uruguay unless it is in the narrow category of norms that are “jus cogens”, i.e., specific, universal, and obligatory, such that any violator is considered hostis humanae generis, an enemy of all humankind. Torture and genocide are the sorts of norms in that category.

        With respect to ordinary customary international law, a country is not bound so long as it persistently objects. Presumably Uruguay will persistently object having passed this law.

        1. “Torture and genocide are the sorts of norms in that category.”

          You would think so, however:

          “the Single Convention is the only United Nations treaty characterising the activity it seeks to regulate, control or prohibit as being ‘evil”…

          …the use of such language is highly unusual. Indeed, the unique nature of the use of the language of ‘evil’ in the Single Convention is particularly glaring when considered alongside that used in other treaties addressing issues that the international community considers abhorrent. For example, neither slavery, apartheid nor torture are described as being ‘evil’ in the relevant international conventions that prohibit them.

          Nuclear war is not described as being ‘evil’ in the treaty that seeks to limit the proliferation of atomic weapons, despite the recognition in the preamble that ‘devastation that would be visited upon all mankind’ by such a conflict. The closest one finds to the language contained in the preamble to the Single Convention to describe drugs is that found in international instruments in the context of genocide. For example, in describing the crimes committed during the Second World War, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights uses the term ‘barbarous acts’, while the Genocide Convention uses the term ‘odious scourge’.” http://goo.gl/w6bnvF

Comments are closed.