Marijuana – Julieta Barragan Sosa, Spain/Uruguay

The use of cannabis has always been a widely discussed subject, and since the recent polemic about legalisation of marijuana in Uruguay, we can observe a potential increase in discussions about this very controversial topic. But why was marijuana prohibited in the first place?

(FILES) Youngsters wait outside the Parliament building (background) while lawmakers debate the bill legalizing marijuana, in Montevideo, on July 31, 2013. AFP PHOTO/PABLO BIELLIPABLO BIELLI/AFP/Getty Images

As Pete Guither firmly states, cannabis has been completely legal throughout most of human history. In fact, it has been illegal for less than 1% of the time it has been in use.

Cannabis is among humanity’s oldest cultivated crops. Cannabis plants are believed to date back as far as 12,000 years, originating on the steppes of Central Asia, specifically in the regions that are now known as Mongolia and Southern Siberia.  Burned cannabis seeds that date back to 3000 B.C. have been found in a ritual brazier at an ancient tomb in Romania.

Marijuana has been used as an anesthetic during surgery, a relaxant herb, and a fixture in ceremonial practices.

These historical practices were curbed, however, when countries criminalized the consumption of cannabis.

This change began with the United States criminalizing marijuana consumption in 1906 and catalyzing a domino effect in the following years. South Africa criminalized the act in 1911 and Jamaica subsequently did the same in 1913.

In 1961, the first international legislation to restrict cannabis consumption was enacted, with the United States as the leading advocate for change. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs limited the use of cannabis and its derivatives to medical uses only. In this treaty, an extension of up to 25 years was allowed to countries where the use of coca, cannabis or poppy was deemed important to their culture. This allowed countries such as India enough time to rid themselves of their old traditions.

In 1974, when there was a dictatorship in Uruguay, its State Council decreed a law that prohibited the planting, production, sale, possession and transportation of drugs.

However, in 2013, Uruguay became the first country to legalize cannabis. This has turned out to be a very controversial move from Mujica and has sparked a lot of discussion all over the world.

The goal of this legislation is to protect, promote and improve public health by implementing a policy which aims to minimize the risks and reduce the damage of marijuana consumption.

This policy promotes comprehensive information, education and prevention from the negative consequences and adverse effects linked to consumption of the drug, as well as providing treatment, rehabilitation and social reintegration to problematic drug users.

Some interesting points from this law are:

    • It allows for the cultivation of marijuana in clubs with membership of at least 15 to 45 people.
    • The maximum amount that a person can carry is 40 grams. This is also the maximum amount that can be legally sold to a marijuana user.
  • Other arrangements regarding the legalization of marijuana in Uruguay:
    • Advertising of cannabis is forbidden by any means of communication.
    • Uruguay will apply the same laws that regulate and restrict the sale of tobacco (for example, only allowing access to those over 18), and penalize cannabis users who drive a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.

To evaluate the impact and consequences felt by the inhabitants of Uruguay, we sought the opinions of some Uruguayans on this legislation.

I support the legalization of the self-cultivation of marijuana; everyone can do whatever they want without disturbing anyone. But the fact that the state is the one who provides marijuana, controls amounts and registers names, makes it sound like a narco state.

I support the freedom of consumption and self-cultivation. This seems to be a change for the better; the state’s intentions to combat drug trafficking are well-meaning but I think it is more necessary to ensure political awareness and health.

If this is way they promote it, I do not want it to be promoted.

Federico, 30, Uruguay

In Uruguay, marijuana was made legal by just a fraction of the current government in order to combat more dangerous drugs and cartels. The law was approved because the party ‘Frente Amplio’* forces its members to pass a law if the party decides it by majority. There is a very serious security issue in Uruguay. Many delinquents are addicts of pasta base, a highly addictive and dangerous drug created from the leftovers of cocaine, so the free consumption of marijuana will not necessarily improve security. Marijuana has a longer withdrawal period, 7 days at first. This means that people using it will think they are not addicted because they just consume (marijuana) on weekends. But the more they use, the shorter the withdrawal period becomes. This leads to consumers seeking out stronger drugs. Additionally, marijuana produces deformities in fetuses and kills neurons.

So we are afraid that the cure will be worse then the problem.

Sylvia, 43, Uruguay

I am indifferent about the legalization of marijuana. There will always be some way to acquire drugs: people will still consume them whether they are prohibited or legalized.

However, I think it is good that they legalized it so that young people do not go to places where they could also find other type of drugs, perhaps stronger ones. It also is a way to lower the gain for the narcos.

I think that marijuana does not do anything good or bad. It is less harmful than alcohol, and much less harmful than cigarettes, to your health. The fact that it has been legalized is a point in favor of the people that use it with medicinal or related goals.

Daniel, 58, Uruguay

Legalizing marijuana was a bold move, hailed by some and criticized by others.

Will more countries join this unprecedented movement? (In bold)

*Frente Amplio: The Frente Amplio is a Uruguayan political party with an anti-oligarchic and anti-imperialist ideology, thereby located to the left of the political spectrum. It was founded on February 5, 1971 as a result of the coalition of several political parties.

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