VIENNA Uruguay will this year become the first country to allow state sale of cannabis . ”We should not be considered as a beacon for others, but we want to try a different path when the ban on drugs did not work”, says Diego Canepa , the country’s representative to the United Nations Commission on Narcotics Drugs’ session in Vienna.
It was last fall that the Senate adopted the Left government’s proposal to start selling marijuana to try to take over the market from organized gangs and focus more on care for those caught in addiction.
– The ban has caused major problems, especially in Latin America. We can not continue with a strategy that obviously is not working, says Mr Diego Canepa, who is head of President José Mujica’s office and spokesman on drug issues, to Drugnews .
He had previously in a speech at the UN gathering defended the Uruguayan controversial decision and says that they do not violate the international conventions.
– We believe we have the right to try to protect our residents’ health and think this is the best route.
He also said that legalization is not the Holy Grail for the drug problem, but it is better to control a visible market instead of an invisible .
In April, the launching of the new law was clear and in November Uruguay plans to initiate the sale of the drug. Every resident in the country 18 years and older should be able to buy a maximum of 40 grams per month in licensed pharmacies. The purchases and customers should be registered in a state database.
In addition, residents can grow six cannabis plants for personal use and smoking clubs with more than 45 members may cultivate up to 99 plants per year.
– But it ’s not about introducing a free market, but to sell marijuana so cheap that we can compete with the illegal market and no one should make a profit. It’s a bit like a socialist market, we do have a tradition of monopoly in my country, says Diego Canepa laughing, labeling himself a Socialdemocrat .
In order to check the quality and so state cultivated plants don’t reach the black market each plant shall be marked with a special chip.
He argues that marijuana is not a big problem among young people in Uruguay, that is alcohol.
• Drugnews: But why don’t you sharpen the rules about alcohol, instead of legalizing cannabis? Will it not attract young people to smoking cannabis?
– No, I think not. Maybe first year there may be a small increase , but it will probably subside. Moreover, we are introducing stricter alcohol rules.
– We give this five or six years to assess how marijuana trial goes, otherwise we change the strategy, he says, but adds that they will not go back to banning the drug.
But when Drugnews asks what data is needed to know if it will be successful or not, he does not know it really. None of his accompanying experts can answer the question either.
United Nations Drug Control Board, INCB, has criticized Uruguay for the decision to allow cannabis sales and and stated it’s a breach with the 1961 Convention, but INCB has no sanctions.
Yuri Fedotov , head of the UN agency UNODC says he has yet to see that other countries follow the Uruguayan example, that it may become a new trend. But he does not not think that the trial is in ”letter and spirit ” in line with the Conventions.