Uruguay is on the verge of becoming the first country in the world to legalize marijuana through a bill that sets up state controlled regulation and production of marijuana. While many places in the world now allow recreational use, Uruguay joins a growing number of authorities, including US states Colorado and Washington, in bringing marijuana out of the black market. The country’s leader, President Jose Mujica, presented the bill that could sabotage the 30 million dollars per a year of drug cartel financing illicit production provides. The country currently spends 80 million dollars a year fighting drug cartels. Not only would the legalized marketplace cripple dangerous cartels, but the country’s pioneering policy could mean substantial deficit reduction through marijuana tax revenues.
Marijuana use has been legal in Uruguay for decades, yet the country has escaped the massive drug violence of Latin American nations that take harder stances on drugs. Further North in Central America, despite a zero-tolerance drug policy, Guatemala constantly deals with intense drug cartel violence. President Otto Perez Molina refers to Uruguay’s plan as “visionary“. Uruguay is pursuing a legalized marijuana marketplace in hopes of avoiding cartel influence while gaining much needed tax revenue.
Taxes aren’t the only societal benefit; the new policy would provide more confirmation of public health benefits seen on smaller scales. Bringing the market out into the open could mean chemical testing of weed by the government, drastically reducing drug overdose potential. People with marijuana addictions wouldn’t face the same legal hesitations about seeking out treatment, thus preventing addiction-related criminal activity by users. These public health benefits could translate to tax benefits through a more engaged and productive workforce.
In the UK, similar benefits are considered possible by some, making supporters hopeful the UK will pursue its own visionary marijuana policy. Academics at the University of Essex calculated a projected tax benefit of £1.25bn in a study that also found little evidence criminalization works. If the UK were to create a legalized marijuana marketplace, the country could end up reducing the deficit through marijuana licensing revenue. Pro-activists believe that creating a regulated and taxated marijuana market is a most logical and mandatory logical step towards the elimination of illegal marijuana trades and a significant increase governmental revenues, which in turn could be invested into more safety and security. Under current law, marijuana is classified as a Class B drug and prohibits the possession thereof. Sanctions can lead up to an unlimited fine and 5 years of prison, while the supply and production thereof increases this up to a potential of 14 years of prison. Due to a loophole in the system there is an existing legal market for cannabis seeds; a grey area in which professional seed companies actively trade their products across Europe. The seeds themselves do not contain thc, however severe penalties can still follow when cultivated.
Amanda Fielding, the director of a group for scientifically-based drug policy, The Beckley Foundation,suggests current UK policy isn’t cost effective and has enabled cartel control of recreational marijuana. While many are positive about marijuana legalization, it remains to be seen if the UK will follow Uruguay’s groundbreaking lead and pursue marijuana tax revenue through legalization.