Uruguay’s Decision Must Be to Liberalize Marijuana


EspañolMy last column, “Uruguay’s Illegal and Immoral Drug ‘Experiment’,” received backlash in the comments section. Noting that most critics are people defending individual autonomy against state subjugation, I want to clarify where I stand regarding the Uruguayan law.

First, I am in favor of the drug market’s liberalization, because I deem adults to be responsible for their own decisions. In that regard, the premise serving as foundation for the new law is correct: the “war on drugs” has been the wrong way to go so far, and it has generated bigger problems than the ones it was supposed to eliminate.

However, the Uruguayan law is flawed. It is a mistake to think that just because the prior stand on drugs was wrong, it instantly makes this law a good thing.

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People continue to congratulate Mujica for using Uruguay’s residents as Guinea pigs. Photo: Marcelo Umpierrez.

I worry about this, because I defend the liberalization of this market, and I do not think the ends justifies the means in this case. The goal is important, but so is designing proper tools for reaching it.

Consider that many people are against state monopolies because they harm citizens. That is why people in Argentina supported the privatizations during Carlos Menem’s government, in 1990, or why they stood in favor of privatizations in the former Soviet Union. But without the necessary precautions, the results were crony capitalism in Argentina and mafia capitalism in Russia.

In both cases, the result of privatizations undermined the initial arguments in favor of them. As a net result, Argentineans are even more averse to “free markets,” and many Russians long for communism.

It is a situation I want to avoid. That is why I make an effort to point out the weaknesses of the “Mujica law.”

The law is bad because — according to expert opinions — it has many unconstitutional elements. I will not repeat those previously identified, but empirical experience shows that the rule of law guards our rights. If anyone believes violating the Constitution is the right path towards broadening individual freedom, they will undoubtedly find their freedoms and rights violated in the future.

I am also noting a generalized belief that people go to jail in Uruguay because they smoke marijuana, but in fact the situation for individual autonomy that many accuse me of not respecting is not as they think. Back in 1974, law number 14,294 allowed plantation and commercialization of cannabis for research or medicinal purposes. The essentially legalized marijuana possession for personal use.

In 1998 Uruguay also passed the law number 17,016, partially changing the one from 1974. Until 2013, that was the most recent legislation regarding the use of cannabis, and it established that both use and possession of marijuana was allowed for personal use.

Clearly Uruguayans are not freer by passing this “Mujica law” that shocked the world.

Some have criticized how I think this law is immoral because it is an “experiment” that does not have the consent of most citizens. It is one thing to say that individual freedoms should not depend on circumstantial majorities, something I agree with. It is another to affirm that people’s consent is not necessary and to legally enforce on them something they completely refuse.

I stand by the negative understanding of freedom, the one claiming that no one can be denied the right to perform activities which do not harm another person. But also no one can be forced to participate in something that they do not want for themselves.

All around the world, people continue to congratulate the Uruguayan experiment for using this country’s inhabitants as Guinea pigs. They are happy, but they do not realize that being a part of this experiment does not have the consent of most Uruguayans. That is what makes this law immoral.

Finally, this law is bad because it does not liberalize the marijuana market; it nationalizes it. This carries within it all the evils of state monopolies; it is harmful because it contains several unconstitutional elements; and it is likely to have counterproductive results because it was poorly designed. If this were not enough, it is also immoral because this experiment does not have the consent of the people subjected to it.

Translated by Melisa Slep.

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