Marijuana Policy : Let’s Open the Debate

Marijuana is by far the most widely consumed illicit substance in the world. In European Union, it has been estimated that marijuana has been used at least once by one in four of all 15- to 64-year-olds. In view of the scope of the phenomenon, it appears reasonable to question policies that are obviously ineffective. However, should we go as far as to regulate marijuana use? In any case this is the approach adopted by some. Rightly or wrongly? Let’s open the debate.

With the experience of Uruguay and the one started on January 1 in the state of Colorado (USA), soon to be followed by the Washington state, lawmakers have adopted policies that go beyond that of countries where marijuana use is tolerated but not legalized yet. In fact, in Colorado they have established the state as the world’s first legal, regulated and taxed marijuana market through the development of a regulatory framework for the cultivation, distribution and processing of hemp. This government-monitored industry could bring a fortune: after one week of business, state-licensed marijuana 37 first retailers had a cumulated turnover of $ 5 million.

Could New Pot Laws End Black Market?

In recent years, many voices have denounced the failure of the so-called “war on drugs” and urged the world’s leaders to experiment with new models for controlling marijuana. No one can deny that despite billions in taxpayer dollars invested, marijuana use is still on the rise worldwide, while the black market jeopardizes the economy and social stability in a number of countries such as Mexico.

Based on this fact, American and Uruguayan lawmakers somehow decided to kill two birds with one stone. 1) Removing any economic interest in drug trafficking and give the government all the advantages and benefits of this new “green gold”. And 2) Bring pot smokers’ marginalization to an end while promoting “prevention efforts”.

Yet, legalizing marijuana poses a serious risk: if prices are too high, it will have no impact on the black market. If they are too low, it will only fuel  marijuana use and abuse while trivializing its harmful effects.

Will Marijuana Use Explode?

Marijuana legalization opponents predict an explosion in marijuana use in countries which have made or will make this choice. True or false, it is too soon to tell and no country has sufficient experience.  Even in the Netherlands, a country which was until now considered as one of the most permissive in this field, marijuana use is merely tolerated while production and wholesale distribution remains illegal.

If we compare the situations of European countries it is clear that there is no mechanical link between a country’s legislation and its cannabis use rates. In the Netherlands for example, surveys have shown decreasing trends in marijuana use, while it is booming in Spain (a country where cannabis laws are relatively tolerant). In Contrast, Sweden and France are among the most repressive countries in the EU, yet the prevalence of marijuana use in these countries appears to be evolving in the opposite direction – below European averages in Sweden and above in France.

The path chosen by some countries raises concerns, and these concerns are especially legitimate because some aspects of the problem have been set aside, including the health risks associated with marijuana use.

The Dianova network consists of a number of civil society NGOs specializing in addiction prevention and treatment. In 2010, Dianova published a document, the Manifesto, describing how the Network positions itself on this topic. In the light of the recent decisions to regulate cannabis use, taken by several governments where our members operate, it appears important to open a new period of reflection to analyze these different perspectives and eventually redefine the organization’s core positioning about this issue, providing that this positioning remain within the framework  of Dianova’s Mission“Developing initiatives and programs with the objective of promoting personal self-reliance and social progress.”

We will count on the collaboration of several experts in this issue, such as Dr. Kevin Sabet, Director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida and co-founder of the SAM Project (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). Through these well-informed opinions and with your contributions we hope to be able to encourage a fair and balanced debate and advance understanding on this critical issue.

Feel free to join us and participate!

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