U.S. Lagging Behind Central and South American Countries in Marijuana Legalization

Across the Americas, marijuana is entering the mainstream. Along with a Republican victory in the November elections, various marijuana laws passed around the country in referendum measures. Similarly, marijuana legislation has passed in elected bodies around Latin America in recent years.

The nature of these laws, however, differ drastically. Here is a regional comparison to see the state of legalization and decriminalization around the Western hemisphere.

In the most recent election, Oregon and Alaska legalized recreational marijuana use and will allow retail pot shops to operate within their jurisdictions.

The District of Columbia also passed a pro-marijuana measure, but one that has far less reach. The law passed allows for possession but not the sale of marijuana, effectively decriminalizing the drug, but not allowing for any shops or retail businesses to open. Proponents of the law argue that this is a civil rights issue since African Americans are disproportionately more likely to be arrested and convicted on charges of marijuana possession than people of any other race.

These three jurisdictions join Washington state and Colorado in legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. So far, the Obama administration has taken a stance that it will not interfere with the will of voters in these states. With the measure in DC and growing public support for legalization, it won’t be long before Congress has to take up the issue.

Uruguay took the lead in passing marijuana legislation, becoming the first country in the world to legalize the growth, sale, and distribution of marijuana. Implementation of the law, though, has been slower than expected and the presidential election runoff, which will occur on November 30, will likely determine the details and depth of the measure.

Uruguay took the lead in passing marijuana legislation, becoming the first country ... to legalize the growth, sale, and distribution of marijuana.
Both presidential candidates have vowed to tinker with the current regulations. It is likely if Tabaré Vázquez wins, who is of the same liberal Broad Front that president Jose Mujica is a part of, the changes will be slight. Luis Lacalle Pou, of the National Party, however, said he will try to repeal many of the measures in the marijuana law if he is elected. Current polls suggest that Vázquez is favored to win the runoff.

Other Latin American countries have much more modest proposals.

Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana possession. Argentina is also currently considering a proposal to expand their legislation and decriminalize marijuana growth for personal use. Guatemala will likely vote on a measure to legalize marijuana in early 2015.

In Chile and Costa Rica, both legislative branches are working on proposals for medical marijuana to be legal. Chile recently passed a law for the state to plant Cannabis plants to harvest in order to produce a painkiller for cancer patients. They are not considering legalizing marijuana for personal use.

Meanwhile in Costa Rica, a law is under debate for the state to regulate the cultivation, production, and distribution of medical marijuana in the country. Recreational uses are currently off the table.

Jamaica and Ecuador are also lessening punishments in their country for marijuana. In Jamaica, for example, less than two ounces are likely to be decriminalized. Ecuador’s threshold lies at ten grams for decriminalization based on a law passed in 2013.

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