As Uruguay Elections Near, Is Marijuana Law Under Threat?

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The two leading presidential candidates in Uruguay have expressed doubts about the country’s landmark marijuana legalization law. Will the marijuana laws likely be scaled back, or is this simply politicking?

On October 22, Luis Lacalle Pou, the presidential candidate for the National Party, reiterated that he would modify Uruguay’s marijuana legislation if elected president in the October 26 elections, reported Infobae. Lacalle said that if elected, he would get rid of the provisions that allow the government to establish a regulated marijuana market; however, citizens would be able to continue growing marijuana for personal use and would be able to buy it in the so-called “cannabis clubs.” 

Lacalle Pou’s remarks came a week after ex-President Tabare Vazquez, the candidate for the ruling party, called the sale of marijuana in pharmacies “unheard of,” and indicated that he would be open to reforming the legislation. Vazquez has previously stated that he would use the country’s registry of marijuana growers and consumers to offer them drug treatment.

According to a poll published on October 8, Lacalle trails Vazquez by just one percentage point, indicating that a runoff election — which would be held at the end of November — is likely.

InSight Crime Analysis

While the candidates’ statements may sound alarm bells for drug policy reform advocates, their rhetoric may have more to do with a desire to win over votes rather than an intention to significantly change the law. In a July survey, over 60 percent of respondents said they were opposed to the law legalizing marijuana, and criticizing the legislation may be a ploy to attract these voters. “The remarks from both candidates is standard politicking ahead of the October 26 elections, and does not mean the law will be modified, much less repealed, any time soon,” Open Society Institute researcher Geoffrey Ramsey told InSight Crime [Ramsey is also a contributor to InSight Crime].

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Uruguay Legalization

Under the current legislation — which has been championed by President Jose Mujica, who is ineligible to run for re-election — companies compete to win government licenses to commercially grow marijuana for sale in pharmacies. In addition, the legislation calls for the creation of a government registry to track the number of individuals who cultivate the drug for personal consumption. According to Infobae, there are currently six hundred registered growers in the country.

As the first of its kind, it is unsurprising that Uruguay’s marijuana law has faced significant setbacks. The success — or failure — of the legislation is likely to play a significant role in regional drug policy reform, as other countries evaluate Uruguay’s controversial experiment.

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