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The Mechanics
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Chicago Wed Jun 27 2012

What Uruguay's Marijuana Legalization Bill Means For Chicago

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's recent proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana sparked wide debate in the media. The Chicago Tribune questioned it, Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader called for full legalization, and Whet Moser of Chicago Magazine questioned whether legalization in Chicago was really possible.

As Chicago aspires to be seen a global city, perhaps we can look at some global examples of regulating the use of marijuana. Most people know about buying marijuana at coffeeshops in The Netherlands (though the Dutch are cracking down on foreign drug tourists), and in Portugal, decriminalization of all drugs in 2001 has led to reduced drug use rates. However, legalizing the sale of a drug like marijuana for non-medicinal purposes has no precedent, and the societal consequences thereof could only be debated by politicians and policy analysts in hypothetical terms.

Until now.

Last week, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica proposed a plan to allow the government to sell a fixed amount of marijuana cigarettes every month to citizens over 18 who register with a government program. Use and possession of marijuana is already legal in Uruguay, so what's interesting is that the law is intended to 1. reduce the power and revenue of drug traffickers and 2. provide funding for drug addiction recovery and rehabilitation caused by more serious drugs like cheap cocaine derivatives. Compare this to Chicago, where marijuana will still be illegal and police will seemingly decide on the spot whether they want to arrest or ticket someone they catch with 15 or less grams of marijuana.

Now comparing the laws of a country of 3.3 million people to a city of 2.7 million might be unfair, given the U.S. federal government's ultimate say on the enforcement of drug use and trafficking. However, they provide a useful contrast. The end goal of both of these pieces of legislation is to reduce local crime: Uruguay by directly profiting off of marijuana at the expense of criminal organizations, and Chicago by freeing up the police and court system to arrest and lock up more serious criminals.

And as absurd as letting the government sell marijuana to cure drug addiction may sound to staunch drug opponents, there is one indisputable kernel of logic here: Uruguay will use the money raised by selling a drug specifically to combat the effects of more harmful drugs. Whereas, in Chicago, we have no idea where the money raised from marijuana possession fines will go (though refunding the recently-closed mental health clinics might be a good first step).

Obviously, Emanuel has no power to legalize marijuana within Chicago's city limits, and even if he could, he's not going to rock the boat during an election year for President Obama, especially when the current U.S. Drug Enforcement Administrator refuses to admit that there's a difference between heroin and marijuana potency. But if Emanuel is serious about making Chicago a world-class city, he needs to look at seemingly local problems from a global perspective. And if he's serious about dealing with drug-related crime and addiction, he, along with Chicago policymakers and media, should keep an eye out in the coming years for how Uruguay spends its marijuana revenue.

Maybe the Uruguay system will reduce addiction, maybe the Uruguay system will be grossly exploited and counterproductive to the point of making the country's drug and crime problems worse. Either way, we will finally have a real example of what happens when a country allows the sale of marijuana to its own citizens, and we will be able to debate the future of marijuana policy in Chicago and the rest of the country from there.

 

LogicalMinded / June 27, 2012 10:58 AM

It is way past time to legalize mj. Uruguay is apparently more intelligent in this respect.

Tim Rettin / June 27, 2012 11:48 AM

Nearly ALL of my friends (ages 25-35, college educated, suburban, middle-class friends) fully support marijuana legalization. I think Americans everywhere are increasingly rejecting the idea that Washington D.C. should dictate our personal choices we make in the privacy of our own homes.

Andrew / June 29, 2012 7:05 AM

Fuckin' smart!

The Wolf / June 30, 2012 3:46 AM

I have been saying this for the longest time, How is it any american can truly say they live in a "Free" Country? When we are constantly being told by EVERYONE in authority what we can and can not do. I'm not saying we should just let anyone and everyone do what ever when ever. But what I AM saying is were the F**** does all these rich government officials, and judges, and cops, get off demanding they know whats better for everyone then they do. I mean has no one ever herd of Relativity? Ya know were whats good for one may not be good for all? and whats bad for one may not be bad for all? But all these "up and up" people say they KNOW for a FACT whats good or bad for everyone. Well ya know i was born in america and i dont remember EVER getn a say in any law, and not that bullshit voting that they have beat into everyones head acually works, Bottom line is they will pass what ever laws they want to with or without everyones agreement. I mean it says in our own constitution that if our Government ever gains the major power over its people ( which it has ben that way for quite a while now ) that we the people are suppose to REVOLT and OVERTHROW the government and start over. But my problem with this is NO ONE wants to, everyone is so cool with living in despair and poverty, Other than the upper class which ALWAYS gets taken care of, i mean you can get outa ANYTHING with the right amount of money. I know a guy lets call him "Jeff" that is in prison for the next 10 YEARS over nothing more than possessing over 35 grams of weed, and i also know of a guy who's name is Cody and he at the age of 28 f***ed a 12 year old girl and he got a whole wopping 8 months and 3 years probation!! OH and he has to register now.... Now can you tell me based on that is justice being served? NO, Are we truly in control of our lives at all? NO, And do you think our government cares?? You guessed it NO! I think it is redictulous that when the majority of america want legal weed but they still say no, we know whats best. Well ive been a adult for a while and i quit pissn my pants long ago, So I think I'LL decide whats best for me, not a pruned up f*** that spends more money in a average day then i do in a year! IT'S TIME TO STAND THE FUCK UP!

Phumzile Liwane / July 8, 2012 6:06 AM

I fully support the decriminalization of Ganja Herb Campaign!!!

Jose / July 17, 2012 6:22 PM

Marijuana will never be decriminalized as long as the only way to obtain it is through a criminal. Government seems to be quite idiotic on this point.

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