Marijuana or cannabis, has had a wild history when it comes to its legality. In case you didn’t know, according to the Textbook of Forensic and Toxicology, “marijuana is a psychoactive drug from the cannabis plant intended for medical or recreational use.” This drug has had popularity throughout the ages. But, also, this drug has been the epicenter of a vast amount of controversies. Nothing else has come close to the ridiculous history of this drug other than in the countries of the United States and Uruguay. Both have some type of marijuana laws enforced but vary in vastly different ways, either in the best of interests or for the worse. In this paper, we’ll be going over on how marijuana laws differ in the United States and Uruguay.
One of the reasons why I’m comparing the United States and Uruguay like I already stated, is because both countries have a ridiculous history when it comes to marijuana. In these countries, it has been shown what happens when the drug is outlawed and when it becomes legalized. It can either be shown through financial findings, health, law enforcement, and many more. These countries are usually the epicenter when it comes to drug law reformation in the world. When it comes to this, it is important to see what each country is doing better than the other. Amidst that, we can see how the other country might improve their stance and laws on this subject, which might ultimately lead to change for the better.
It’s important to compare the history of marijuana laws in each country so we can know what worked and what didn’t work. It is important to learn our history, or we are doomed to repeat it. With that out of the way, let’s go over the history of marijuana in each country, starting first with Uruguay. Uruguay for all of its time has actually never had the act of personally possessing drugs criminalized. But in 1974, there was a law that permitted judges to determine whether a given case of owning marijuana was either for commercial or personal use. In 1998, that law was modernized. Besides all of that, the country’s history on the drug would be later refreshed on June of 2012. On that date, according to the BBC, the Uruguayan government revealed a bill “to allow state-controlled sales of marijuana to fight a rise in drug-related crime.” According to the BBC, Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernandez, said that one of the reasons for this bill was so that it can “remove profits from drug dealers and divert users from harder drugs.” In the bill, it would allow the government to create a “user database in order to supervise consumption.” With all of that presented, the BBC also states the fact that in Uruguay alone, “the illegal marijuana market is estimated to be worth about seventy-five million dollars a year.” With all of that money out there, you can see why the Uruguayan government would be interested in making it sure that it is not dirty money. Then on the 31st of July of 2013, the Chamber of Representatives in Uruguay finally passed the bill to legalize and regulate “the sale and production of marijuana in the country.” After that on the 23rd of December 2013, the President of Uruguay signed the bill into law. According to Reason.com, the government would be in charge of the production and pricing of cannabis. But, unfortunately, on July 2014, according to Hurriyat Daily News, the Uruguayan president announced the “full implementation of the law would be postponed to 2015” all to “practical difficulties.” With many concerns risen during the next year and a half, finally in 2017, the government allowed the sale of cannibals from 16 pharmacies. According to CNBC, this law would make Uruguay the first country to sell cannabis in drug stores. With all of the information presented, there is still some more detail on how the marijuana laws function in the country. But, we will get into more detail on how the law works later in this paper.
Now, when it comes to history of marijuana laws in the United States, the US takes the cake for one of the most extensive history of marijuana laws. This all pre-dates back to the pre-1850s. In 1619, the Virginia Company determined to enact an order, which asked the landowners of Jamestown to export and grow 100 hemp plants just to help England. Hemp would be later used to help the development of America. Then in the 1850s, in American pharmacies, medicinal preparations of cannabis became available. After some ramblings about the drug, according to the New York Times in 1853, the United States labeled recreational marijuana as a “fashionable narcotic.” But, around the 1900s, criminalization of the drug began. In the year of 1906, the United States Congress legislated the Pure Food and Drug Act. The act demanded that certain drugs, including marijuana, be labeled accurately with the correct contents. This was a big divergence to how drugs were distributed because many drugs were sold as patent medicines with either misleading labels or “secret ingredients.” While this act was needed for health concerns, it was somewhat poorly handled in how they bunched up cannabis in the same vein as cocaine. In 1938, the Pure Food and Drug Act was changed to the Federal, Pure Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938, which is still in effect to this day. Also, in 1925, there was the International Opium Convention, which backed the management of Indian hemp. This convention decided to forbid the exportation of the substance. It allowed more regulations of the drug. Then in 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was formed. This was created as a way to push for outlawing all of the recreational drugs, including marijuana. According to the New York Times, that bureau produced propaganda films, which incorrectly claimed that cannabis cause people to commit violent crimes and act overly sexual and irrationally. After that, in 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act was passed, which made the transfer or possession of marijuana illegal under the US federal law. Unfortunately, mandatory sentencing and an increase in punishment were created as a result of the US Congress passing the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 and the Boggs Act of 1952. This gave first-time cannabis possession offenders to receive at least a minimum of two to ten years in prison with a hefty fine of up to $20,000. But, however, according to PBS, “Congress repealed these mandated penalties for cannabis offenses.” Following that, in 1973, President at the time, Richard Nixon proposed the idea of a single federal agency to only enforce federal drug laws. Congress decided to accept Nixon’s proposal. In 1984, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act established sentencing guidelines. With the help of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which according to the DEA Archives, reinstated mandatory prison sentences. But, in 1996, the Compassionate Use Act in California permitted people to possess and use marijuana only when it was prescribed to them by either a physician or doctor. After that fatiguing history, around the 1970s, efforts to decriminalize the use and possession of marijuana started to begin. With that being the spark, multiple state legislations of the drug began to follow. In 2012, Colorado and Washing became the first states to legalize the ownership and sale of marijuana for recreational use. Followed by that, in 2014, according to BBC, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Later in November 2014, there have been 28 states that have had jail time removed for possessing small amounts of the drug, they created medicinal use laws, or they have outright legalized the production, sale, and possession of cannabis. Finally, in 2016, North Dakota, Florida, and Arkansas legalized the medicinal use of marijuana. Along with that in 2016, Nevada, California, Massachusetts, and Maine legalized the recreational use of marijuana. With all of that history out of the way, we can see how and why their history differs so much. With Uruguay, it is typical government stuff. But, with the United States, we see how all of the efforts were used to outlaw and legalize the drug. On this subject, the United States could look at Uruguay and see on how to improve for the future when it comes to its drug laws. But, another thing to go over is the present in both of these countries. Basically, we must know how are the current marijuana laws in each country and how do they work and differ.
Let’s start with Uruguay again. In Uruguay, cannabis is widely the most used drug in the country. As stated earlier, the purpose of the legalization was to combat health issues and drug-related crimes. Since Uruguay was the first nation to have the sale of marijuana completely legal while tax and regulated, the age that is legal for people to use marijuana for recreational use is 18. With that, you are required to register in a national database in order to track on how much marijuana you consume and purchase. Like I said, it is legal to possess the drug. You can also buy the drug, but you are only allowed to buy up to 40 grams of marijuana from the government every month. According to Mic, “all sales are required to go through the federal government, which is supposed to set up a network of dispensaries and determine prices.” It is also legal to transport the drug. Plus, you can grow or cultivate up to six plants of marijuana. As a citizen, you are allowed to sell marijuana, but except to foreign visitors, which is prohibited. But, citizens do offer cannabis for free to foreigners. So, that is a general gist of how the marijuana laws work in Uruguay.
Now, with the United States, the marijuana laws are a lot more complicated than the ones in Uruguay. Even though many states are starting to legalize marijuana for either/both recreational or medicinal use, it is still illegal under the United States federal law. If the federal government wanted to make all type of marijuana illegal in every state, it still would have the ability to do so. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), it is considered a Schedule I drug, which means it considers drugs under that label “to not be considered for medical use, it has a high potential for abuse, and it can cause severe psychological or physical dependence.” Even though marijuana is labeled as a Schedule I drug, it is nowhere near as dangerous as the other drugs on that list. With that still being on the list, states have had their own laws on marijuana based on either possession of the drug, selling the drug, transporting it, and cultivating/growing cannabis. For possession, 20 states have it legal for some type of medicinal use only, 9 states have it legal for both recreational and medicinal use, 14 states have that act decriminalized, and 9 states have that considered possession a misdemeanor. For selling marijuana, 8 states have it legal for both medicinal and recreational use, 10 states consider it illegal across the board, 1 state considers the act as both a felony and misdemeanor, 3 states consider the act only as a misdemeanor, 9 states consider it a felony, and in 19 states it is only legal for medicinal use. For transportation of the drug, it’s legal for both recreational and medicinal use in 8 states, it is also legal for only medicinal use in 8 states, 2 states consider it illegal across the board, 1 state considers it a felony, 1 state considers it a misdemeanor, and 21 states do not have the law on that clearly stated. Finally, for cultivation and growing the plant, 7 states have it legal for both recreational and medicinal use, 2 states are unknown on this part, 21 states consider it illegal across the board, 12 states consider it legal for only medicinal purposes, 4 states consider it a felony, and 4 states consider it a misdemeanor. With all of this exhibited, we can see the clear and obvious differences to the laws of both Uruguay and the United States. It is clear to what things that both the Uruguay and especially the United States could learn from each other.
In closing, both of these countries, especially the United States have come a long way when it comes to the topic of marijuana. The United States can learn a lot from Uruguay. For example, across the board at the federal level, the United States should realize that they should start taking marijuana off of the Schedule I list. It is clearly not in the same vein as the other harmful drugs. Marijuana has been known to help people with health problems. Also, if someone wants to use the drug for recreational purposes, then the government should not interfere. If that person is a non-violent drug user, then why are we wasting so much tax dollars just to go after non-violent drug users instead of going after more serious crimes? The governments only job when it comes to recreational drugs should be to legalize, tax and regulate it, that’s it. Uruguay handles it best, even though it’s a little too much to have a database of all of the users. That is also one area where Uruguay could improve on is not be involved in everyone’s personal life if they are not harming anyone. But, with that out of the way, this is why both countries were compared. We see how the laws, health findings, and enforcement are like in reality. These countries are usually the epicenter when it comes to drug law reformation in the world. As we can see with the findings in this paper, the United States still has a long way to go. Every state has its own laws and rules when it comes to certain aspects of marijuana legalization. We can see that each state is unique. A lot of states are still restrictive on certain aspects of marijuana legalization, especially republican states. The reason for that is because of external influences like big donors and corporations. The private prison industry is a big factor in making sure that states don’t legalize marijuana. They usually donate so much money to politicians, so they can perform for their own wants instead of what is for the good of the community. But, before we go, we can now see what the United States can take away from Uruguay, and even vice versa. The United States has the ability to step in the right direction when it comes to drug reform. If we are willing to learn, then that might ultimately lead to change for the better.