Uruguay’s common sense on cannabis

This is a hugely significant moment in the long march from hysteria to sanity

Thursday 01 August 2013 21:44

Finally we have a country that is bowing to the demands of logic, common sense and sound policy by becoming the first in the world to regulate the production, distribution and sale of cannabis. Uruguay’s House of Representatives has passed the necessary bill, which now only needs the approval of the Senate.

This is a hugely significant moment in the long march from hysteria to sanity that is the so-called war on drugs. The case for ending prohibition is a combination of principle and practicality. In principle, this newspaper believes that the state has no business stopping people from doing something that might harm themselves, so long as it doesn’t harm others. A century of evidence shows that criminalising drugs increases rather than decreases the harm to others.

This brings us to the practical aspect. Even decriminalising drugs – as has happened in Portugal – does not stop gangs retaining control of this most lucrative of industries. Only by legalising distribution and production can their grip be broken.

On his recent tour of Brazil, Pope Francis condemned any move toward legalisation. Never mind that: the pontiff’s religious faith and superstition hardly qualify him to pronounce on such matters, and – encouragingly – the governments of Latin America, which have to deal with the catastrophic consequences of prohibition in terms of public health and criminality, are increasingly in favour.

Juan Manuel Santos, the President of Colombia, supports legalisation. Felipe Calderon, who was President of Mexico until November, hinted at the same. Meanwhile, polls suggest that half of America supports full legalisation; in Britain, a similar portion favours decriminalising cannabis. Prohibition – illiberal in principle, disastrous in practice – has failed. The momentum is shifting against it. Uruguay’s courage will help to ensure such progress doesn’t go up in smoke.

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