“We want to develop a regulated market, with a State that is much closer to drug users”
Milton Romani Gerner is Ambassador of Uruguay to the OAS and representative of Uruguay at the UN Commission of Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. Mr. Romani is an active campaigner for human rights and social justice. We met with him to talk about the law regulating the cannabis market in this country.
Several Latin American countries have spoken, at the international level, in favor of alternatives to the existing drug control system. However, Uruguay took a historic step in December 2013 when President Jose Mujica passed a law regulating the production, marketing and consumption of cannabis, while promoting information, education and prevention of the problematic use of this substance. Uruguay has thus become the first country worldwide to legalize and regulate marijuana
Dianova: A year ago at the CND 57, in Vienna, we were presented with the newly-approved Uruguayan law on cannabis… What’s the situation one year leater?
Milton Romani: It should be noted first that despite the change of government in Uruguay, there is continuity in our drug policy. The law voted by the parliament has had its implementing decrees and guidelines and regulation measures for self-cultivation, membership clubs and for sale and distribution purposes in pharmacies have been prepared and implemented. In addition, the Institute for Cannabis Regulation and Control (IRCCA) was created to regulate the whole system. Actually, it is a closed, state-controlled system. Only the state can grant production or cultivation licenses. But outside of this system cannabis remains an illegal drug. We are currently in the phase of implementation of the law and we have launched an Advisory Scientific Committee chaired by Professor Luis Yarzábal, composed of several former presidents and a network of 119 national and international scientists to assist the monitoring and enforcement of the law.
Dianova: Does the law already concerns drug users directly?
MR:Yes, two thousand people have already registered as domestic growers, they are registered with the IRCCA. They have a permit to grow up to 6 plants per household. In addition, fifteen licenses have been allocated to membership clubs, which comprise between 15 and 45 members. As regards production and distribution purposes, 22 companies have applied, of which 11 were shortlisted, we are now in the final stage so as to select the five companies that will be responsible for cannabis production nationwide. In addition, genetically determined seeds have been selected to ensure an adequate traceability process.
The last stage will be the implementation of a specific software to be utilized in pharmacies so as cannabis users can be registered while ensuring that people’s privacy is fully respected.
These three areas are mutually exclusive: if one chooses to be a self-grower, he won’t be authorized to apply for club license. Records will be implemented so as to keep track of each individual situation.
Dianova. According to you what would be the best case scenario within a year?
MR: I would say that within a year we’ll have to meet two major challenges. We must first deploy a vast education and awareness campaign because, as any other drug, cannabis can seriously damage health. Some of the experiences we’re sharing with Colorado and Washington states have shown that risk perceptions inevitably lessen because of marijuana regulation – that is why it is critical to implement this prevention and education campaign. We aspire to develop a regulated market with a state that is much closer to drug users. In addition, not only should we facilitate access to information, but we must also ensure that all problem drug users can access adequate drug treatment programs.
Our second challenge will be to entice cannabis users to participate in the system, because if they continue to rely upon the black market, the experience will prove a total failure. The first elements we have seem to be encouraging – two thousand cannabis users do not depend on the illicit market anymore and we estimate that a large number of clubs, although maybe not as great a figure, will also be willing to join the system.
A third aspect of importance: we have also regulated marijuana production for medicinal and research purposes and within a year we will have the first outcomes about the beneficial aspects of marijuana for health as one of the consequences of a regulated market. In fact, certain drugs, such as opiates, can be very beneficial but prohibition-based policies create hindrance to their accessibility for those who need them most. Furthermore, the state will be able to collect funds from licenses and permits, funds that will be taken from the criminal market.
Dianova: we seldom hear someone talking regardless of ideology, speaking sensibly, with ideas, with evaluation and programs. It is not very common and much appreciated.
M. A: : I have been coming to such meetings for many years and all I hear generally is some kind of a religious litany hear which does not allow to imagine new things. I think this is wrong. We must have open minds. But in the same way, as President Mujica said, if it appears that we are wrong, if we realize that the experience does not work, we will have to admit it..