The South American nation of Uruguay took a major step towards legalizing marijuana on Wednesday, as its house of representatives narrowly approved a law that will legalize the production, sale and consumption of weed. The law will now have to gain approval from that country's senate, where it is likely to pass. It will then have to be signed by President Jose Mujica, who's actually one of its main supporters.
Uruguay's pioneering move is expected to encourage other countries in Latin America and Europe to explore new approaches to drug policy and to test marijuana regulations that go beyond just prohibiting the stuff. Here are some of the countries who might consider being the next to legalize weed.
Congressmen from this South American country have already met in private with Uruguayan legislators to see how that country's marijuana law works. Opinion on marijuana legalization is split within the country, but in 2007 Chile took a small step towards full legalization by decriminalizing marijuana consumption. In other words, while you are still not allowed to produce weed or commercialize it in Chile, smoking a joint will not land you in jail or lead to any fines.
Guatemala's president, Otto Perez Molina, made headlines last year when he said that Central American countries should consider legalizing the production, transport and consumption of drugs. Molina is a conservative former general who had to bust drug shipments at some point in his career. He believes that trying to eradicate the market for drugs is a futile exercise that has led to high levels of violence in his country. However, his statements have not yet led to any major legislative initiatives in his country.
The obscene levels of drug violence in Mexico have prompted some officials in that country to seek new alternatives to the "war on drugs." Former President Vicente Fox, for instance, is a strong supporter of legalizing weed, arguing that it would decrease drug gang profits and enable officers to focus on crimes like kidnappings or cocaine trafficking. There's a small group of senators and congressmen from the left-wing PRD party that are drafting a national marijuana legalization bill. Politicians in Mexico City are also pushing for a local bill that would legalize cannabis clubs in Mexico's federal district.
In 2012, Colombia's supreme court confirmed a previous ruling, which says that the possession of drugs for personal use is not a crime. This ruling enables people to carry up to 5 grams of marijuana or 1 gram of cocaine. The country's president Juan Manuel Santos has said that new approaches to drug policy are needed and has suggested that he is in favor of full legalization if other countries also joined in the initiative.
In 2009, a supreme court ruling in Argentina made it illegal for police to arrest individuals for carrying personal doses of drugs. However, cannabis activists in that country complain that some pot smokers are still being thrown in jail. In the past couple of years Argentina has been considering several bills that would make sure that marijuana use is decriminalized. President Cristina Kirchner has said that users should not be treated as criminals but has not yet taken a firm position on the issue of legalizing the production and sale of weed.
Portugal decriminalized personal drug use in 2001 and increased treatment options for drug abusers. As a result, the number of addicts in the country decreased significantly. In May a left wing party called the Bloco de Esquerda proposed a law that would legalize some marijuana production in Portugal and provided for the creation of cannabis clubs. The law did not pass because most parliamentarians asked for this legalization bill to include complementary measures that would tackle health and safety issues. Expect politicians in Portugal to try new legalization initiatives.
Marijuana consumption has been allowed in the Netherlands for a while. But producing the drug and selling it isn't really legal, even if it is tolerated by police. Recently some of Holland's provinces designed laws that only allow local residents to purchase marijuana at the country's famous coffeeshops, due to an increase in drug-related crimes. Large cities like Amsterdam have resisted these laws, claiming they would drive weed-seeking tourists away, or simply revive a dangerous black market for drugs.
Ecuador decriminalized the consumption of marijuana and several other drugs last month and President Rafael Correa says that he "partially supports" legalization. Correa has said on record that the current prohibitionist approach to drug policy has "been a failure," but his country has not yet drafted a law that would legalize the production and sale of drugs.
The U.S. Federal government is a big fan of marijuana prohibition, with vice president Joe Biden saying in a recent trip to Mexico that he welcomes the discussion of new drug policies, but that he does not think that any drugs should be legalized. Despite this rhetoric, polls show that more than 50 percent of Americans favor marijuana legalization. Some analysts believe that this shift in public opinion, along with laws that legalize marijuana in certain states, will eventually force the federal government to change its prohibitionist stance.