Uruguay's Answer to Drug Use Is More Drug Use

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Here's a novel way of fighting the drug war: Allow the government to sell weed directly to citizens and use the profits to rehabilite addicts. That's the plan in Uruguay, at least, where local media are reporting that ruling-party lawmakers are sending a bill to Congress to legalize marijuana as a crime-fighting measure. Under the plan, the government would be the sole provider of joints, er, "marijuana cigarettes" and sell only to registered adults. According to the Associated Press, lawmakers see a number of potential benefits, including keeping drug profits away from black market criminals:

Uruguayan newspaper reports about the bill said that people who use more than a limited number of marijuana cigarettes would have to undergo drug rehabilitation and that money from taxes on the cigarettes would go to rehabilitating addicts. The idea is weaken crime by removing profits from drug dealers and diverting users from harder drugs ... Only the government would be allowed to sell the marijuana cigarettes, and only to adults registered as users.

It's the sort of program that makes Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin's fictionalized drug legalization plan in Baltimore (see season 3 of HBO's The Wire) look prudish by comparison. But let's just be the first ones to say that the Uruguay plan doesn't sound that bad! 

U.S. drug warriors will be quick to pull out the program's most controversial line of reasoning: That giving people safe access to weed is an effort at "diverting users from harder drugs." Of course, those types of people have long contended that marijuana use in and of itself is a gateway drug to harder substances such as cocaine and heroine. But as Time's Maia Szalavitz has written at length on, this is the myth that will not die. "Scientists long ago abandoned the idea that marijuana causes users to try other drugs: as far back as 1999, in a report commissioned by Congress to look at the possible dangers of medical marijuana," she wrote. She goes on to cite a range of studies that have debunked the correlation equals causation argument about weed's gateway drug status.

As for cracking down on organized crime, if the government makes it safe and easy to buy marijuana then it seems plausible that it would quickly out-compete black market sellers, thereby undermining the country's criminal element. The AP says an announcement later today by the government may include "the marijuana issue." Bravo, Uruguay! 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.