Uruguay: A laboratory for controversial drug policies?

Critics of Uruguay's marijuana legalization plan say it will bring corruption and create a black market for drugs. But Uruguay is a small and relatively stable, so why not try, asks a guest blogger.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

I can think of a lot of problems Uruguay's marijuana legalization/nationalization proposal. Creating a giant state-run bureaucracy to manage the growth and sale of marijuana is going to be complex and rife with potential corruption, especially given the huge market demand in Brazil. The proposal is still going to have artificial limits on the quantity and quality of marijuana, which will create a parallel black market. Drug-related crime in Uruguay is less centered around weed than it is cocaine, meth, and various other harder drugs, meaning this proposal is unlikely to impact crime.
 Yet, in spite of those criticisms, why not? Given its small size, stable economy, and relative security, Uruguay seems like the perfect laboratory for the hemisphere to try out a legalization experiment. Being that Uruguay already has a de facto decriminalization for personal use, the proposal is unlikely to increase drug use rates by any significant amount. Secondary effects might hit Brazil and Argentina, but those markets are so big that Uruguay can't be a major supplier for them. Even the most unlikely worst case scenarios that a drug warrior can imagine (narco-state!) could be contained by Uruguay's neighbors. The far more likely outcomes are a mixed bag of good and bad from which we can all learn while debating reforms in other countries.

Uruguay's biggest challenge is going to be the need to adapt its proposal once it hits problems. The government seems certain that it can manage this market with the right planning effort. I give them credit for discussing the specific details of their proposal, but they should plan for continuous (and potentially reversible) reform rather than try to get all the details correct on the first shot.

James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant based in Managua, Nicaragua, who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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