Legalization of marijuana seeks to protect teens and minor addicts from addiction - expert

Roman Kozarev
The Voice of Russia (Russia)
Thursday, August 1, 2013

Voice-of-RussiaUruguay's House of Representatives has passed a bill to legalize marijuana by 50 of the 96 MPs following 13 hours of tough debates. Now the bill is to be approved by the Senate to make Uruguay the first country to regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana. President Jose Mujica believes that the measure will remove profits from drug dealers and divert users from harder drugs. Martin Jelsma, the Coordinator of Drugs & Democracy program at Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, shared his thoughts on the new legislation with the Voice of Russia.

Is the legalization of soft drugs like marijuana really the way to divert addicts from harder drugs?

I’m a supporter of the measure that was approved in Congress yesterday in Uruguay because it is a very strictly state-controlled system of legal regulation of economy’s market. And indeed, it allows introducing control and access to cannabis for minor addicts, it allows introduction of quality control in terms of levels of PHC. So, it can reduce the health risk of the substances actually used. And it can separate the street market.

Now anyone who wants to just smoke cannabis has to buy it from a dealer who also sells crack and other more dangerous substances. It is one of the lessons from the Netherlands for example where partially regulated system has been introduced, only on the sales in small quantity. But now the Uruguayan Government is actually the first that proposes to regulate it from production to the sales in a very strictly controlled way. It is not going to increase access to cannabis because it is very easily available on the black market in Uruguay, and in fact in most of the world.

So, by bringing it under a strict state control it is meant in fact to reduce easy access and to separate the markets. There will be limits to the amount that an adult can buy. There will be a state monopoly on production. It is not that there will be a whole commercial market starting. Advertisement will be prohibited. Sales will only be done through pharmacies, both for the medical use of cannabis and non medical use. So, I do think it is a well-thought, careful and strictly controlled way of regulating this market, which is something different than just legalizing it in terms of liberalizing it and allowing it to become like cigarettes or alcohol.

Many government officials around the world recognize that the strictly repressive and law enforcement approach has not worked to get rid of this market and it has a lot of negative by-effects. The Government of Uruguay has taken the courage and drew a conclusion that it is better to take this market out of criminal hands and bring it under a strict state control.

And because it is well-designed I think other countries in Latin America will definitely follow this example. And we already have two states in the US – Colorado and Washington sates – that have already approved by a referendum a similar legal regulation of cannabis market. So, now we will see three places in the world where there will be experiment starting in practice. I’m positive that especially the Uruguayan case, which is a strict model, will have a lot of positive consequences. And once they become a clear evidence, I think other countries will follow.

In your opinion, will the government`s regulation of marijuana production and sale result in reduced use of harder drugs in Uruguay as they have proclaimed?

That is to be seen. The experience in the Netherlands with separating the markets has in that sense been quite successful. The Netherlands is one of the countries in Europe with the lowest presence of problematic drug use of harder drugs. The vast majority of drug users are cannabis users, like 90%. The market is mixed and drug dealers also sell other drugs. So, cannabis users are constantly in contact with people who want to sell them other drugs also. And of course, the criminal market does not have age limits. And constantly being in touch with criminal dealers who sell cannabis and other drugs is an incentive and a constant sort of pressure to also start using other drugs.