Home » Side event: Cannabis law reform in the Americas: Regulation gains momentum

Side event: Cannabis law reform in the Americas: Regulation gains momentum

Organized by the Governments of Mexico and Uruguay, the Washington Office on Latin America, Center of Studies for Law, Justice and Society, Intercambios Asociación Civil, México Unido Contra la Delincuencia, Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law, and the Transnational Institute.

Isabel Pereira, DeJusticia: Will discuss cannabis law reform and how it is moving forward in the Americas. Government of Uruguay and civil society from across the region are represented on the panel.

Alexandro Corda, Intercambios Asociación Civil (Argentina): Our forthcoming report shows that cannabis came through colonization and slaves from Africa. Legislation on cannabis started first at the administrative level, then at the criminal level. In some countries, cannabis comes later. In the 1960s, there are regulations on this substance. Legislation in different countries became uniform after the 1960s, and sentences become more strict. In the 1970s, discourse centres on security. Legislation became stricter as did sentencing, and later we see conflicting movements with some de-sentencing and other sentencing becoming stricter. Cannabis is subject to the same control as other substances. Sentences are disproportionate, as users are criminalized for possession and sometimes confused with trafficking. In some countries, system of upper limits is established. Another issue is cultivation. Some producing for own consumption, but authorities do not discriminate. Growers are considered traffickers. Criminal application is equated to cannabis prosecution. Authorities have a tool to hone in on populations, such as youth. Impose limits in Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico. Response from judicial agencies is ambiguous. Substance that is most consumed, but minimum mortality and morbidity. Levels of dependence similar to alcohol. In Chile, have the highest level of consumption. Have more flower. Can be associated with other data that shows problematic use of cannabis has decreased. Medicinal cannabis arose lately, beginning in 2014/15. At legal level, many countries promulgated laws on these and some did not. Conventions authorize this use. Legislation of medical cannabis insufficient as doesn’t recognize the existing reality. Growers want a regulatory system that allows them to go on with their activities. Coexistence between growing countries and domestic cultivation. Criminal response continues to prevail. Regulation in Uruguay and Canada. Medical cannabis in some countries. Need to rethink the prohibitionist policies.

Diego Olivera, Uruguay: Provide a briefing on Uruguay’s law and the impact it has had, as well as challenges we must face in the future. Law adopted in 2013. Five years in operation. It is structured around approach of public health, reducing harms, and human rights. Main goal to reduce trafficking and organized crime. Minimize the negative impact that illegal markets have had in our country. Developing an institution to deal with this. Has a lot of autonomy. Regulate and control all activities in the law. Institute also promotes actions to reduce the harm. Law comes in the agenda on the legal market and associated with commercialization of cannabis for non-medical use. Takes on medical use as well. Has become a relevant issue in our country. Growing industry. Issued 16 licenses for cultivation with more than 1% THC. Have regulation which is specific to regulate industrial activity for crops with less than 1% THC. Legislation on industrial hemp. 15 authorizations. Three channels for access: domestic cultivation (maximum six plants, 7000 people authorized), social clubs with maximum 45 members (3000 people in 115 clubs), and pharmacies (35,000 people). Users can use only one of these channels. Personal registration system. Have to be a citizen of Uruguay or permanent resident, and 18 years of age or older. Only two companies producing cannabis for pharmacies. Want to add three more. Opened a call for proposals. Complete cycle of tracking. Controls at the different stages. Robust legal and technical architecture regarding protecting personal information. 50% of cannabis demand in country has been moved to the legal market. In terms of education, have had a large public debate regarding effects. In terms of development, now have a legal industry. Funds removed from criminal organizations. Challenges include having to complete the expansion process of the legal market, develop productively in the area of industrial uses, and expand access to medical and therapeutic products. Consolidate culture of change for responsible regulation of cannabis. Increase state capacity. Protect legislation that protects our citizens.

Lisa Sanchez, Mexico Unido Contra la Delincuencia (MUCD): Mexico is one of the countries that has come on board this movement at the global level for medicinal uses, and is exploring the possibility of regulation. Fought so fiercely against the problem of drugs, but rather than solving the problem it has been exacerbated. Homicides, criminal activities of cartels, and state does not have much on offer regarding people who need medicines. Bring to light drug markets that will cease to exist and reduce harms of economic and social elements caused by this illegal markets. Regulation is not something new. In last five years, progress has been substantial. In 2012, started with strategic court cases. Questions validity of prohibition of cannabis in relation to rights to privacy and development of personality. First case we won in 2015 and then there were five other cases. We wanted to generate jurisprudence. Needed five consecutive cases. Won the fifth case at the end of 2018. Jurisprudence on cannabis for personal use was achieved in February 2019. We are promoting a comparison between court criteria and legislation to regulate cannabis. In response to context of Latin America and North America, reform of market access to cannabis. Internal and external pressure in Mexico. Exploring policy that would be beneficial for Mexico. We want a proposal like Uruguay. Different access channels. Self-cultivation, social cooperative, and retail sales through a controlled system of licensing. Regulation will be aimed at different purposes. Different controls depending on purposes. Adult use, medical use, and industrial use. Differentiating between pharmaceutical and therapeutic uses. Participation of all ministries. Want to see that different prohibitions remain because we want effective control to achieve security goals. Reducing access to economic resources by criminal organizations. Criminalization of user groups and health issues. Cannabis with controlled potency needed. Prohibitions would be non-commercialization of food stuff, supply to minors, advertising, sponsoring, promotion. Would have jail sentences and administrative sanctions for these. Notion of control for these issues. Mexico will be facing consideration of positives, including notion of what is medical use, and diversified supply lines that are mutually exclusive. Take affirmative action for small growers for domestic industry rather than international. Released from jail for those unfairly criminalized for cannabis possession. Intermediation of the state. Private-public partnership system. We haven’t discussed yet harmonization of the other laws. Negative points include user registration and are learning from Uruguay. Given jurisprudence, congress have 90 days to modify the law. Mexico should comply with deadline by October. If not, Supreme Court can declare unconstitutionality and change the laws without a regulation framework. Best for Mexico to comply before then.

Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Caribbean Community (CARICOM): Caribbean is an important growing region in the world. Less of a debate on the domestic side as we have seen huge groundswell of support for reform. Not a homogenous framework in the Caribbean. International sphere of reference. Growing commercialization of medical cannabis. We are a magnet for foreign companies. Trend to slow down initiatives to legalize or decriminalize despite the fact that it is needed for social justice and Caribbean people want this change. Have seen some legislative change in the region. Generally question on how we go forward for the industry is still challenges due to international treaty framework. Huge thrust against this notion in the region. Realization that people have a religious and cultural aspect. History of scientific research that was stymied because of draconian regime that emerged. Not just criminalized but goes along with strict liability. Judges have no discretion in terms of the penalties. Can end up with huge jail sentence for small amounts. Deep social justice issues that come into being and undermine legitimacy of the law itself. Basis for legislation was not scientific. In some countries, where policy has been to not enforce the law, also not a good process for policymaking. 80-90% say they want the law to change. Seen as ineffective, discriminatory, and violating human rights. Disconnect as it is not effective in prevention. Public health rationale and human rights rationale for change. Seeing evidence from Jamaica. Believe that proven benefits of cannabis outweigh the harms. Some countries implemented fines. Poor and marginalized, often linked to race, end up in jails. Begun to integrate human rights issues. Challenges mandatory sentences and emphasize right to health. Believe that courts will continue in that vein. How do small states attempting to create a cannabis industry encourage scientists and protect our hegemony? Seems some huge firms coming into the region and monopolizing. Appropriate land tenure strategies to protect small farmers. Medical cannabis does not address social justice issues. Don’t want to go in decriminalization direction. Persistent poverty imbalance in terms of trade and viable industry. Protecting local industry. Ultimately, we are unanimous that there is need for change within social rights, development, and human rights perspective. Some countries take a more incremental approach. Risk of over commercialization, especially if foreign controlled.

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