Uruguay has legalized pot.
Before the passage of the law, Uruguay’s president made an important point; admitting that legalization was an experiment, he stressed the importance of finding an alternative to the deadly and unsuccessful war on drugs. “We are asking the world to help us with this experience, which will allow the adoption of a social and political experiment to face a serious problem–drug trafficking,” he said. “The effects of drug trafficking are worse than those of the drugs themselves.”
Yes. That is an “inconvenient truth” that everyone from Milton Friedman to the lowliest academic researcher has documented. Drug abuse (which, interestingly, is nowhere defined in the law, which simply prohibits the use of scheduled substances) is a public health problem, and criminalizing it doesn’t help anyone. It does, however, incentivize the drug trade, erode civil liberties, disproportionately affect the black community and make hypocrites of us all.
If pot were legal, regulated and taxed, we could control children’s access (it is harder in most communities for teens to get alcohol than pot) and generate income.
In Uruguay, the government will actually sell marijuana rather than taxing it. Andrew Sullivan reports that
Under the new law, Uruguayans registered with the government will be allowed to buy up to 40 grams (1.4 ounces) of marijuana from government-licensed pharmacies. Private companies roped in to help produce enough weed to meet local demand will have to sell their crop to the government for distribution. The government will rake in some extra cash in the process. The black market for marijuana is worth some $40 million. The government won’t earn as much; it plans to sell the drug for about $1 a gram, roughly 30 percent less than the black market price. But it can count on a lot of customers: Uruguay has a relatively high percentage of pot smokers for the region – third only to Argentina and Chile.
If Uruguay’s experiment works, there will be increasing pressure to end a “War” that has been one of the costliest failures of public policy in the history of the country. And that’s really saying something, because we have a habit of legislating stupid and costly failures.