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Drug Legalization of Cannabis in a developing Country. The Uruguayan Model

Periodic Report Summary 1 - DRUG LEGALIZATION (Drug Legalization of Cannabis in a developing Country. The Uruguayan Model)

- A summary description of the project objectives

The main goal of this investigation is the analysis and systematization of the process of Cannabis Legalization in Uruguay during a certain period of time. Law 19.1172 regulated the cannabis market in December 2013. In the framework of 6 years the focus of the project aspires to identify and characterize causes and effects of the law in different scenarios (i.e. criminal policy, governance, public health). The main object is to systematize and evaluate the Uruguayan experience according to the consequences in Uruguayan society (mainly in criminal policy and criminal system) and for international Uruguayan relationships (i.e. other countries, international organizations).

The aim of the project is to observe from a criminological point of view the effects - legal, economic and social - of cannabis legalization in a developing country, and to analyze what we can learn in comparative research. The overall aim is to evaluate how criminal policy, state governance and public health are brought together in the implementation of the Uruguayan model of legalization and commercialization of Cannabis. From a criminological perspective, the research seeks to observe the possible adverse effects of the regulation of cannabis (e.g. increase of consumption, drug tourism, traffic accidents, increased levels of school and education-related problems, etc.). Furthermore, attention must be given to the co-existence of illicit cannabis markets (black and grey), the involvement of criminal gangs, and the impact regulation (the white market) has on the criminal justice system.

- A description of the work performed since the beginning of the project

In June 2013, the Uruguayan government presented a regulated cannabis market as one of fifteen measures to prevent violence and increase public safety ( With this in mind, the main task was which data related to the criminal justice system in Uruguay would be useful. Thus, the first step was to find out from the criminal system which cases demonstrated a level of violence related to cannabis, and how the cannabis market may lead to insecurity. Under the supervision of Professor Albrecht, the data collection process was designed to compare the relationship between lethal violence and the cannabis market before and after the enactment of the cannabis law. The years 2009 and 2014 were chosen to analyze the number of homicides and drug crimes as this represents the usual duration of a criminal law process. Almost one hundred indicators were considered for each type of crime. These indicators were then discussed with Prof. Juan Carlos Oyanedel in Santiago de Chile in January 2016, and regular updates were communicated and discussed with Prof. Montano in Montevideo. An electronic platform was created using survey monkey to organize and analyze the data.

In February 2017 interviews were carried out with tourists in the old city, Montevideo in order to find out directly whether, despite prohibition, they had access to cannabis, the type of cannabis, and through which channels.
During this period, the researcher collected Uruguayan public surveys and literature about the regulation model, harm reduction in drug policy and policies on drugs. Data collected included information on both the war on drugs and the legalization of drugs, focusing on anthropological, sociological, geopolitical, economic and juridical perspectives.

The researcher took part in conferences in Uruguay and Europe about the research topic (see below). He was also interviewed by Uruguayan and foreign mass media (see below)

- A description of the main results achieved so far

The continuous observation of the regulated cannabis market has allowed the researcher to report the following main results:

• In Uruguay, there is a lack of knowledge about which data can be used for the design of criminal policies.

• So far, the researcher has not found a relationship between cannabis and lethal violence.

• It is important to differentiate between the cannabis law and its implementation. Some aspects from the law, such as the prohibition of sale to tourists and the lack of political interest in possible medicinal use, could be criticized.

• The implementation process has shown that there is an important delay in the medicinal use of cannabis. The whole system has been concentrating on the recreational use of cannabis.

• The appearance of a grey market could be thought of as a foreseen result of the Uruguayan policy on cannabis.

• The interviews the researcher has done indicates that, despite prohibition, tourists have unthreatening access to cannabis flowers. These suggest either the existence of a grey market where the flowers from the white market are accessible, or an improvement in the quality of the product offered by the black market.

• The new cannabis regulated system does not represent a paradigm change but rather a policy based on the harm reduction principle.

• The new system has brought more juridical safety in the application of the criminal law.

• What is the meaning of “harm reduction” in the Uruguayan policy on drugs?

- The expected final results and their potential impact and use (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

One of the most important consequences of the project is related to the method of data collection used during the research. In Uruguay, the ITF does not distinguish between crimes related to different types of drugs (cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines etc.); all drug related crime is considered within the same category. This lack of distinction between drug crimes does not allow criminological analysis in order to find out the dimension of real violence related to cannabis issue. Uruguay offers the regulation of cannabis as a solution for the criminality associated with drug trafficking and organized crime, and as a solution for better cohabitation, without knowing the relationship between the cannabis market and violent crime (e.g. crimes against life and crimes against personal integrity).

The researcher is in the process of disaggregating this data in order to verify the real dimension of the cannabis market as a threat to public safety. This could prove to be of benefit to the Uruguayan justice system.

The interviews completed with tourists in the old city in Montevideo allowed the researcher to observe that the prohibition of sale for tourists does not impede access to the product. Even worse, prohibition contributed to the creation of a grey market. The researcher has put the problems caused by the cannabis law into public discussion through the mass media, and he has demanded a change in the system (see below point 5)

The foundation of OLAP (Latin American Observatory for Research on Criminal Policy and the Criminal Law Reforms, in collaboration MPI-UDELAR is one expected result that could have socio-economic impact in Uruguay. One of the main goals of OLAP is research into drug policies in the region as well as find out the changes in the procedural criminal system.