by Diana on 02/12/2013 | Legal & Politics

Cannabis legislation in South America – An overview

In the global process of cannabis legalization, everything seems to take place in slow motion. Some governments may be trying to gain enough time to change strategies in a way that best suits them. Some, perhaps, merely wish to distract their citizens so that procedures last as long possible or - even worse - are never completed.

In the global process of cannabis legalization, everything seems to take place in slow motion. Some governments may be trying to gain enough time to change strategies in a way that best suits them. Some, perhaps, merely wish to distract their citizens so that procedures last as long possible or – even worse – are never completed.

Puerto Rico continues strongly

Miguel Pereira, member of the PPD
Miguel Pereira, member of the PPD

New cannabis legislation in Puerto Rico seems promising. On the 13th of November 2013 the media was informed about the new proposal for cannabis decriminalization in this Caribbean country; a proposal approved by the Senate itself. With a “YES” from the Upper House, citizens only have to wait for responses on the issue from the Lower House and the Governor. If they agree with the new law, regulation could become a reality in January 2014.

Senator Miguel Pereira, leader of the PPD,  Partido Popular Democrático (Popular Democratic Party), said that although the House of Representatives is more conservative, he is sure that his party has  “enough support” to develop the initiative. As for the required signature of the Governor, Pereira said “the Governor does not often apply his right to veto”, a reason why Pereira thinks that they will surely gain his approval.

The initial project of Puerto Rican cannabis legislation was intended to decriminalize the possession of an ounce of cannabis (28 grams). This aim has been modified and, although it is no longer so ambitious, the changes continue to improve on the current situation.

The Senate finally agreed that up to half an ounce will be considered only as an offence, which would mean a maximum fine of $100 (rising to $200 for a second offence and $300 for a third). Additionally, if the quantity is between half an ounce and one ounce, possession could be punished with a fine of up to $500 and six months in prison. For possession of over an ounce of cannabis, the Government will maintain the current penalties of three years in prison and fines of up to $5,000.

Noteworthy is the fact that in Puerto Rico, a second offense involving more than an ounce means mandatory imprisonment for up to six years. In addition, if the offence is committed near a school, the punishment is doubled.

These measures obviously continue the country’s strict stance on cannabis, but do show a slight change in attitude more in line with what is considered “the common sense of Justice”. According to Pereira, “the changes are pure justice. The fact that an individual should go to prison for a non-violent offence offends one’s sense of proportion and of the fairness of penalties”.cannabis ounce

His statement refers to the hard sentences that currently exist in his country, where the possession of small amounts of cannabis can incur three years in prison. These are disproportionate measures to punish personal consumption, and even comparable to penalties for far more serious crimes. Pereira makes his point bluntly, stating that decriminalization is “almost a universal phenomenon“, taking place all around the world (including 22 of the 50 states of the USA) and that they are trying “to amend a mistake made decades ago, when the disproportionate penalties were implemented”.

Uruguay and the never-ending story

In Uruguay, the political situation on regulation contrasts strongly with that of Puerto Rico. In the country of Mujica, the Senate is the only group which has still not agreed, meaning citizens are still waiting for the final decision. Thus, if the Senate is in favour of complete cannabis legalization, the list of Uruguayan supporters – which already includes the President and the whole of Congress – will be complete. If, on the other hand, the Senate decides against decriminalization, all progress will cease and the projects, proposals, laws and drafts will simply evaporate.

Raymond Yans, President of the International Narcotics Control Board
Raymond Yans, President of the International Narcotics Control Board

It is important to highlight Uruguay’s recent official wake-up call from the UN, which brings complications. The body responsible for compliance with International Treaties has warned Uruguay that if the law goes ahead, it would be in breach of these treaties, which the South American country has signed. Raymond Yans,  President of the International Narcotics Control Board , stated in an official letter that the regulation to which Mujica aspires “contravenes the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, which has been adopted by 186 countries, including Uruguay”.

To date, both the price and maximum amount of THC that Uruguay will set on cannabis for personal consumption have been announced. THC levels will be up to 5% since, as Senator Luis Gallo, Member of the Health Commission of the Uruguay Senate, said “these are the criteria that we are working with, because according to scientific studies, this is the limit to ensure the minimum consequences for health”.

For his part, the Belgian politician Raymond Yans believes that cannabis legalization “would have serious implications for public health, especially for the youth”, so “hopefully, the Uruguayan Government will start the dialogue again with the INCB as soon as possible. That is, before the Law goes ahead”.

Last Tuesday, November 27th 2013, the Bill on Control and Regulation of Cannabis and its Derivatives was accepted by the majority of the Senators from the Senate’s Public Health Committee in Uruguay. Without any doubt, this represents a great step forward. Senator Luis Gallo has confirmed it, saying that the Project was approved by the Public Health Committee of the Upper House last Tuesday night, but only with the votes of the Frente Amplio party, the opposition having voted against it.

There is  a new important date to be set in the calendar of cannabis regulation in Uruguay as the whole project is going to be decided upon next December 2013. If all goes well, it will finally be approved by the Plenary on December 10th, 2013 in the Senate of the country. In addition, the Government of Mujica, plans to have the standard regulation ready by next April 2014, to start as soon as possible with both  the regulation and registration of official cannabis use.

If this project is approved, Uruguay will mark a historical milestone by becoming the first country in the world to take control of the entire process of production and sale of cannabis.

This process is slowly but surely evolving and both national and international witnesses impatiently await the answer.

Mexico lindo with legal cannabis

What is happening in Mexico is quite similar. Some Mexican politicians have denounced the lack of appropriate legislation on personal use, as currently the penalties are indiscriminately applied to vastly different amounts of cannabis. This results in personal users and commercial dealers suffering identical jail sentences, a situation which is blatantly unfair.bandera mexico

Several months ago the Mexican government announced that a serious debate on the issue would take place no later than September 2013. They kept their word, and simultaneous debates occurred in both the Congreso de la Unión (the Congress of the Union) and the Asamblea Legislativa del Distrito Federal / ALDF (the Legislative Assembly of the Federal District). The continuing aim is for the State to regulate medicinal use, opening the door to decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis.

Vicente Fox, former President of Mexico, personally organized a pro-legalization event on his ranch, attended by several celebrities from the social and political world. Contrary to his expectations, although the event featured on some magazine covers it did not have the impact that he hoped for.

At this point, the process of cannabis normalization in South America is a long way from being complete.  The stories are still being written; it remains to be seen if they will have a happy ending.

Sensi Seeds, as always, will continue reporting the news on all of these fronts.




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