2014 – Uruguay first country to regulate Cannabis

In December 2013, Uruguay became the first country to allow production, sale and consumption of cannabis after a national campaign had highlighted the health, legal and prison costs of criminalisation. Uruguay’s decision is a part of a wave of states and countries that have decriminalised drug use in the last decades.

Uruguay's move marks the beginning of the end of a century-long prohibitionist moralist stance that has only fueled drug violence, criminalised poor marginalised communities and exacerbated the adverse health impacts of drug misuse.

Uruguay’s bill was pushed by civil rights and human rights groups within the country that came together, including the coalition, Regulación Responsible. One of the primary goals was to increase citizen security by ending the underground nature of the drug market. This will both undermine organized crime’s capacity to profit and allow the government to hold health campaigns and target support to reduce harmful drug misuse. The bill was embraced by a progressive left government under President Mujica and finally approved in 2013.

Uruguay’s decision came a year after ballot initiatives in the states of Colorado and Washington legalised the sale and possession of marijuana for recreational purposes. They have since been followed by Oregon, Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Vermont. Canada announced it would legalise cannabis in July 2018. They in turn follow Portugal’s decision in 2001 to decriminalise all drugs which succeeded in dramatically reducing HIV infections and drug overdoses as well as drug-related crime.

The increasing numbers of countries embracing drug policies based on evidence of what works and a desire to reduce harm is the result of the tireless work of campaigners including human rights activists, community leaders, health advocates and academics. At an international level, many have come together in the International Drug Policy Consortium, currently made up of 174 organisations. This alliance has succeeded in winning the support of renowned political, media, business and cultural leaders who also speak out for sensible drug reform.

The result has been a sea-change in views on drug policies, particularly in industrialised nations. In the US in October, 64% of Americans supported the legalisation of marijuana, when only five years earlier the majority were opposed. At an international level, though, progress has been blocked by intransigent prohibitionist countries who have refused to reform the anachronistic international UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that still constrains the capacity of countries to end drug criminalisation.