The Beginning of the End of the War on Drugs?

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.


  1. I have often said that marijuana needs to be legalized; it is not as harmful as alcohol and legalization would probably take away some of the attraction of doing something illegal. Medical use should be standard practice when it is beneficial to patients. The number of deadly traffic accidents by drunk drivers vastly outnumbers the few where drivers are under the influence of drugs. Often they are prescribed medications that are being abused either accidently or for the side effects. There is no one law that is going to resolve the drug problems and the assinine use of the term “war on drugs” has no meaning whatsoever as the large scale dealers making millions never seem to be arrested, convicted or imprisoned. I have watched my family members abuse drugs of all sorts, primarily alcohol, I have seen and been heartbroken over the damage done to all of us due to this abuse. Marijuana plays no major part in the destruction of families or loss of lives; the primary culprit here is alcohol with laws that are ignored or underused. Never lose sight of the Bisard case locally. I’m sure there will be many uptight, arrow-straight opponents commenting on this as they look down their noses at those of us who will be interested in the results of Uruguay’s experiment with this law. Of course there is always the old standby argument regarding the taxes collected by legalizing marijuana and with the no smoking laws so widespread, toking would be done in private but we will still be subjected to the offensive and dangerous drunks in public. I look forward to reading more about this subject and the results.

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