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Argentina: Optimism Reigns in March for Marijuana Decriminalization

By: Belén Marty - @belenmarty - May 6, 2014, 11:18 am

EspañolAn air of festivity surrounded the march for marijuana decriminalization in the Plaza de Mayo on Saturday in Buenos Aires. Similar gatherings took place in more than 250 cities around the world as part of the Global Cannabis March, organized efforts held simultaneously and independently, with the goal of changing current legislation regarding marijuana.

This year was different, though; the march was marked by strong optimism and high expectations among participants in Argentina, now that the neighboring country of Uruguay has legalized the drug for personal use and cultivation.

Todo fue válido el sábado a la hora de la creatividad. Fuente: PanAm Post.
Protesters unleashed creativity on Saturday. Source: PanAm Post staff.

According to figures provided by organizers, more than 200,000 Argentineans marched through major cities under slogans such as “No more prisoners for growing” and “Regulate cannabis now!”

In the capital city of Buenos Aires alone, over 150,000 gathered in the symbolic Plaza de Mayo and marched on Congress.

The march was organized in Argentina by the Association of Cannabis Cultivators of the West, the West Buds Association, the Argentinean Cannabis Farmers Group (AACA), and the Center for the Study of Cannabis Culture (CECCA).

These organizations demand the end of raids, arrests, and criminal prosecutions for marijuana possession and cultivation, the legalization and regulation of cannabis social clubs, the legalization of medicinal marijuana, and the adoption of a new law to study the problems associated with its use.

Currently, law 23.737 criminalizes the possession, production, and distribution of marijuana — even advocating its use is a crime. The courts, however, do not normally enforce sentences for offenders.

Socialist groups marched in favor of marijuana decriminalization. Foto: PanAm Staff
Socialist groups marched in favor of marijuana decriminalization. Source: PanAm Post staff.

Gabriel Jinkus, a CECCA activist lawyer, told the news agency Télam that “every year, the growth of the march demonstrates that this deserves institutionalization with a law that allows us all to enjoy the plant recreationally or medicinally.”

Facundo Rivadeneira, another event organizer, stated: “We are users. We are not sick, and we are not criminals. We use a substance just like other people drink coffee everyday or smoke tobacco.”

Clouds of smoke, the smell of marijuana cigarettes, images of Bob Marley and Jamaican flags, and the sale of accessories for the consumption of the plant gave a psychedelic touch to the cloudy evening in Buenos Aires. Vendors also sold books on the various uses of cannabis and other psychoactive substances like LSD.

Among the political organizations in attendance was a group from the Libertarian Party of Argentina, whose members claimed to “defend the life choices of all individuals.” They explained that in their opinion “prohibition only generates drug trafficking” and that they “defend the use, distribution, and production” of marijuana.

Similarly, legislator Nicolás del Caño of the Worker’s Left Front stated, “We reject the criminalization of those who smoke or grow marijuana and stand by its full legalization. We defend democratic freedoms and are against the drug trafficking business.”

Uruguay Regulates Marijuana

On Monday, President of Uruguay José Mujica signed an order that will regulate the consumption and cultivation of marijuana. The new law has 104 articles and is divided into five chapters: Non-Medical Psychoactive Cannabis Use, Cannabis Register, Institute for Cannabis Regulation and Control (IRCA), Violations and Penalties, and Tax Provisions.

La marcha contó con el apoyo de otros países latinos. Source: PanAm Post
The march had the support of other Latin-American countries. Source: PanAm Post staff.

The new law will permit “planting, growing, and domestic harvesting [of marijuana]” as well as “cannabis membership clubs, distribution by pharmacies, including the acquisition of up to 10 grams per week, and the production and distribution of seeds.”

However, the law prohibits all forms of advertising, sponsorship, or endorsement, either direct or indirect, of psychoactive cannabis products, as well as any promotion through media.

According to Article 15, only adults who are either Uruguayan citizens or permanent residents may legally participate in the marijuana market. All users must first fulfill several regulatory requirements before acquiring the plant.

Consumers must be fingerprinted and registered at any post office with their identification card, although officials say names will not be logged. Diego Cánepa, a cabinet minister, said the registration system works with an algorithm that associates a unique number to the fingerprints of each person recorded.

Through this algorithm, a ticket is produced with each person’s unique user number, and can then be used to purchase marijuana from a pharmacy. Cánepa explained that consumers may then “request the purchase of up to 40 grams of marijuana per month. The pharmacist will have a terminal where the consumers will place their fingerprints, identifying the user without additional personal data, and the system will determine whether the person is authorized for the purchase.”

The Uruguayan social organization ProDerechos, although in support of marijuana regulation, has expressed doubts regarding its current implementation.

“There are too many requirements to register as a grower, and no positive incentives. We’ll have to see if it works,” the group stated.

The new law also stipulates that only marijuana with a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of less than 15 percent will be allowed. In addition, cannabis clubs may not have more than 40 members and no less than 15.

Cánepa also said that the first legal marijuana crops will be available in December of this year, and that “the first license will include a price of between 20 and 22 pesos for the first sale.” The price of the drug, he said, “will be set by the state.”

The law also states that in order to be a personal-use grower, registration with the IRCA is required and no more than six plants will be allowed, regardless of the number of people living in the building in which the cultivation occurs. Further, no more than 480 grams may be cultivated per year.

Anyone who may have grown plants prior to its legalization will also need to register those plants with the state. Finally, Cánepa said that the IRCA will have a special inspection body that will be responsible for overseeing the production process, and implement a “random” control to inspect the homes of those who cultivate the drug for personal consumption.

With regard to home inspections, Cánepa said that the visits shall be “pre-coordinated with the homeowner, and if he refuses, the auditor shall register a complaint and wait for a judge to authorize the visit.”

Gabriel Drach, activist from the emerging Uruguayan Libertarian Party, believes that while “it is an important step that liberalization is being discussed, this does not happen with this law. The power is given to the state to regulate the sale. Monopolies are common in Uruguay, and the loser is always the consumer.”

President Mujica discussed the new law during a recent broadcast on Radio Montecarlo. He explained the law is designed to fight drug trafficking in the country.

“Uruguayan society does not want to see the evil that drug addiction creates. Not only the personal impact, but everything in the background, the criminal methodology of drug trafficking. This is one of our most serious problems. There is no worse blindness than those who refuse to see. In the criminal world there were codes, but with the advent of the narco culture, anything goes. Methodologically, it can spread to all other forms of crime. The battle will be long,” said the president.

Translated by Rebeca Morla.

Belén Marty Belén Marty

Belén Marty is the Libertarian Latina, a journalist based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has lived in Guatemala, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States and is a former candidate for local office with Argentina's Libertarian Party. Follow @BelenMarty.