Once Uruguay’s president signs the bill into law, Uruguay will become the first nation to fully legalise the production, sale and consumption of marijuana.
It’s also violating international law by doing so – at least according to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), who claims that Uruguay is violating the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics. Said convention required the signing nations to restrict the usage of cannabis to medical and scientific purposes, “due to its dependence-producing potential”.
As a general aside, I thought that this was old territory – and that countries like the Netherlands would already have claimed first place. Apparently not. In Holland, the usage of cannabis has been decriminalised, but not legalised – meaning that the laws against cannabis are still in place, just without any penalties attached to their violation.
Talk about semantics.
Either way, I’m going to disappoint my mother and explain why Uruguay deserves a prize for being bold enough to break the treaty and ignore the “namby-pambies” at the INCB.
The Argument Against The Legalisation of Cannabis
I’m going to start with the opposition:
- Drugs are evil.
- Pot is the slippery road to taking more hardcore drugs.
- Pot is addictive. Or rather, it has “dependence-producing potential”.
- And according to the INCB: “Cannabis is not only addictive but may also affect some fundamental brain functions, IQ potential, and academic and job performance and impair driving skills. Smoking cannabis is more carcinogenic than smoking tobacco.“
Some observational responses:
- Drugs are not really a moral issue. They might be bad for you, but that doesn’t mean that they have some kind of insidious spiritual agenda.
- As for the slippery path argument: one could say the same of alcohol. Or cigarettes. Or going clubbing (which, honestly, seems a lot more likely to end in a little ecstasy).
- Cannabis is no worse than alcohol on the “dependence-producing potential” front. To give some statistics: in the US, there are 18.7 million people struggling with alcohol addiction; while only 4 million addicts use marijuana (to be clear, that’s addicts, not users). And the far larger drug problem in places like the States is prescription pain medication: all legally produced, possessed and consumed.
- Weed-smoking does not cause cancer. There is no scientific association between cannabis consumption and lung cancer – if anything, marijuana has been shown to reduce the likelihood of tumours (probably from all the stress-reduction…).
- And as for the other concerns raised by the INCB – all of those problems are also problems with alcohol. It’s just not a consistent argument to legalise one and criminalise the other.
Here’s an infographic (although you can ignore the second part, which I found a little random):
The Arguments in Favour of Legalising Cannabis
Unfortunately, all those arguments above are negative. They’re not saying that legalising pot is a good thing – they’re just saying that the arguments against legalising it are bad arguments.
So here is why legalising marijuana might be a good thing:
1. It makes good economic sense.
The war of drugs is failing. The empirical evidence is not on the side of prohibition, meaning that most countries are attempting to enforce a policy that both doesn’t make sense and doesn’t work.
In order to enforce these laws, there are special police units, drug administrations, courts and prisons. It’s a bad use of good resources. Even if you think that addiction rates will increase post legalisation, that money would be better spent on rehabilitation facilities.
And at least rehabilitation might fix the problem – as opposed to criminalising it. After all, if addiction is a sickness, why are we sending addicts to jail?
Let’s rather save the money and use it elsewhere.
2. It makes even better economic sense.
When cannabis production, distribution and usage are illegal, they cannot be taxed.
If they are legal, then they become a source of government revenue. The appropriate “sin” taxes can be put in place to cover the cost of any rehabilitation facilities that are needed, and whatever else that’s made can go toward social welfare programs. Or whatever.
So now we’re not only saving money, we’re making more money as well.
And now Uruguay is trying it. Marijuana will be available to Uruguayans over the age of 18. Production will require a state licence.
I’m not saying that it will work. But someone ought to try it.
Because in a country that’s dominated by drug-gang-related violence, what’s there to lose?
Rolling Alpha posts about finance, economics, and sometimes stuff that is only quite loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, or like my page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha. Or both.