Uruguay’s Plan to Legalize Marijuana Sales: Should the Rest of the World Follow?

A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent shot and killed a suspected drug trafficker in Honduras over the weekend after the suspect reached for a gun, according to U.S. officials. That’s better drug-war news than last month’s tragedy, when Honduran cops, accompanied by DEA agents (who U.S. officials say did not fire their weapons), accidentally shot and killed four civilians, including two pregnant women, on the Mosquito Coast. Given how overrun Central America is by narcotrafficking and narcoviolence — Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate — the latest incident probably won’t raise too many hackles. Still, it will raise questions about escalating U.S. involvement in antidrug interdiction abroad.

But another, just as important piece of drug-war news offers a counterpoint to Operation Anvil in Honduras. Late last week, the small and stable South American nation of Uruguay (pop. 3.3 million) proposed legalizing and monitoring marijuana sales — making the government, in fact, the sole legal seller. The purpose of the unprecedented bill, which Uruguayan President José Mujica calls an anticrime measure, is to preempt the often violent black market where marijuana is illegally sold (marijuana use itself is legal in Uruguay) and channel the $750 million that Uruguayan pot users spend on the drug each year into public coffers. “The traditional [interdiction]approach hasn’t worked,” Mujica said. “Someone has to be the first” to try this.

The proposal, which still has to pass Uruguay’s Congress, is indeed the first to be lit up in the wake of April’s Summit of the Americas in Colombia, where host President Juan Manuel Santos and a number of other drug-war-weary Latin American leaders told the U.S. the same thing: that the traditional interdiction strategy Washington so obstinately defends no longer works and that it’s time to try new tactics, including marijuana legalization. Uruguay’s Defense Minister argued last week that spiraling drug violence in regions like Latin America, as well as the spiraling costs of drug interdiction and incarceration worldwide, may even be a bigger crisis “than the drugs themselves.”

That argument is growing louder in the U.S. Polls show that half of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, which they consider no more harmful than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco if consumed moderately and which accounts for as much as half of the revenue that Mexico’s bloodthirsty drug cartels earn. Meanwhile, pro-legalization politicians like Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, Texas, who just ousted eight-term incumbent Congressman Silvestre Reyes in the state’s Democratic primary, are starting to win elections.

– Read the entire article at TIME.