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Drug Reform in Latin America

July 30, 2012

In June Uruguayan officials announced a plan, proposed by President Jose Mujica, to legalize marijuanna as a means to combat the trade in and use of harder drugs, like cocaine and pasta basica (a cocaine paste similar to crack). Under this plan, the government would sell and tax marijuana, using tax revenue to fund drug rehabilitation. The goal of the plan is to use easy access to marijuana to turn Uruguayan users away from the harder, more addictive drugs. You can read more about this plan in the LA Times.

Uruguay’s plan is novel for the state-managed monopoly it would create over the marijuana trade. However, the idea that relaxing drug laws and regulating the drug trade may be what’s necessary to curb drug-related violence is spreading across Latin America. Officials across the region, including in Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, have long been frustrated with drug policies that have failed to curb drug trafficking or drug violence. Officials in these and other countries are talking more openly about the possibility of drug decriminalization as a means to undermine drug cartels.

Such efforts do face resistance, both at home and abroad. The US has opposed legalization, as have many medical professionals and security officials in the countries where these debates are taking place.

For more on this issue, see these stories in the New York Times and the Atlantic. To learn more about regional and national drug policies in the Americas see this analysis and a drug policy map provided by InSight Crime and see the TNI Drug Law Reform Project (a pro-drug reform site). You can read more about US drug policy in Latin American states at the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.Country fact sheets are found here.

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