OpEd: Uruguay Leads the Way on Cannabis Regulation

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On Friday, Uruguay released its long-anticipated regulations accompanying the law that was signed into effect last December, which made Uruguay the first country in the world to legally regulate the production, sale and consumption of marijuana for adults. The government will now embark on the implementation of the legal marijuana market, which is expected to be up and running by the end of 2014. The regulations for medical marijuana are to be released later this summer. Florida legislators ought to be preparing our own right now.

The Uruguayan marijuana regulation system will allow Uruguayan residents over the age of 18 to choose between three forms of access to non-medical marijuana: domestic cultivation of up to 6 plants per household; membership clubs where between 15 and 45 members can collectively grow up to 99 plants; and sales in licensed pharmacies of up to 10 grams per week. Those operating outside the regulated and licit system will face penalties.

Marijuana consumers will have to register with the government for one of the three options. The registry data will be confidential and protected. Regardless of the form of access, each individual will only be able to possess 480 grams of marijuana per year. The government has also granted a 180-day amnesty period during which individuals can register their current plants, after which it will only accept applications seeking prior permission to grow marijuana plants. Florida’s new law will also create a medical registry. Right now, people are being scammed by promoters to buy land, secure ID cards, and get into ‘canna businesses.’ That’s premature. What you need to do right now is get your absentee ballot and support United for Care, the group promoting the medical marijuana initiative.

Uruguay’s new freedoms won’t stop their planes or trains from running. In fact, their law limits advertising and promotions, bars smoking in closed public spaces, in the workplace, and at health establishments, schools and sports institutions. Driving under the influence of marijuana is not allowed, and the newly created Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA), tasked with regulating and controlling the whole system, will set the THC limits and types of test performed for DUI. Consumption at or during work is also prohibited. Pot can be patrolled without you being imprisoned.

The regulations include strong education and health components. While educational centers may ban people who are impaired from marijuana consumption from entering the premises, they are then obliged to offer support and information on marijuana use. Membership clubs also must educate and inform their members about responsible marijuana consumption and the IRCCA must promote harm and risk reduction strategies related to problematic use of marijuana. It’s a head start. Floridians should pay attention.

Uruguay intends to keep the price of pot flexible, and would begin at roughly $1 per gram, in an effort to undercut the current illicit market for marijuana. Most importantly, citizens won’t be buying it unsafely, unmanaged, and uncontrolled on the streets. It’s a step forward. Last week, Florida also nominally moved forward with a law that will make marijuana medically accessible to a limited number of very sick patients. It opens the door for a broader, more far reaching constitutional amendment that voters should pass in November. A report this week reveals an overwhelming majority of Floridians favor the new law. It takes 60 percent to pass. We should reach that number easily.

The bottom line is that medical marijuana is an issue whose time has come. Studies in the LGBT community show a vast amount of popularity and support for this initiative. Many within our diverse community are not only smokers for recreation, they are users for medication. HIV patients particularly, recall how useful marijuana was in fighting the wasting syndrome when it was a real threat. We also know how many times that relaxing joint at night could mean a night in jail as well. Each year, over 750,000 Americans get arrested for pot possession.

Marijuana smokers coming out of the closet for their rights is very much akin to gay citizens fighting for LGBT rights. What is right was not always popular, and what was popular once was not right. We need a new marriage, to blend justice with a joint. Make your vote and voice count. Light one up for freedom this summer. Send a few bucks to United for Care, and register to vote.


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