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40 grams per month: Uruguay’s marijuana regulations

4 May 2014

Uruguayan authorities have unveiled the details of their marijuana legalization program.

The price is set at one U.S. dollar per gram, with registered consumers over the age of 18 permitted to buy up to 40 grams per month. (By the way, the AVERAGE income in Uruguay is about 9500 US dollars per year). Authorized clubs with between 15 and 45 members can grow up to 99 plants for their own use, and distribute up to 480 grams annually to their members (which, again, works out to 40 grams per month).

Individuals can grow up to six plants for their personal consumption.

(source: Animal Politica

I expect this will be discussed widely in the U.S. media, mostly from the pro-legalization people. A couple of thoughts.

While I don’t object to legalized drug use whether we’re talking about marijuana or heroin, whether the U.S. can just co-opt the Uruguayan experiment I don’t know. Latin American countries have relatively low consumption levels, especially compared to the rich countries and especially to the United States. Marijuana use is much heavier in the southern cone (Argentina, Uruguay and Chile) than other Latin nations, but still, there’s never been much polemical discussion about consumption — neither the “Reefer Madness” nor the “Make Marijuana Legal” crowd has has amounted to anything of any significance in domestic affairs.

legal-weedUruguay is not a marijuana producer, and legalization is aimed more at cutting Paraguayan exports (and the violence that comes with unregulated agricultural markets) than at satisfying any particular consumer demand. It’s more just a way of dealing with an unwanted social problem, similar to regulations in most countries meant to channel prostitution or gambling or public drunkenness away from public security concerns. Of course, in the United States — with its obsession for security (and the financial interests in security that prop up so much of its economy) — Uruguay’s experiment does appear radical.

For us marijuana-producing and exporting countries, where foreign security concerns have been foisted on, Uruguay’s regulations are not particularly relevant. Countries like Mexico are not major marijuana consumers, and the concern over foreign regulation is two-fold. This country became invested (whether by choice or otherwise) in fighting production and export, while simultaneously finding production and export extremely lucrative. I’ve argued before that legalization in the United States would not particularly benefit the Mexican farmer (whose price depends largely on the illegality of the product), nor Mexican agriculture in general. Even when of lower quality (as Mexican marijuana is said to be), the cheaper price and greater availability of a product will drive higher-quality “craftman” products off the market, or at least limit their production (why do you think there are a lot more Fords than Rolls-Royces on the road?) Corporate agro-biz would gobble up the market, and the profits thereof are not going to return to the Mexican countryside should there be a legal U.S. market. And, let’s not get into the very real possibility that openly-grown, marijuana production would be on a corporate scale, gobbling up land and water resources in a country that is already having serious problems with food security.

Certainly, for farm workers and as a security issue, legalization north of the border would benefit us, but there are ways to deal with those issues without depending on U.S. legalization (and probably less harmful in the long run): simply give up on the “War Against Drugs” and let the buyer handle the results for starters. Pay farmers a subsidy to go out of production. Give amnesty to the exporters in return for paying taxes on their profits over the last 20 years.

My point is, the Uruguayan experiment, while to be applauded, may hold very few lessons for us here in Mexico, and may not be all that relevant to a major consumer like the United States.

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