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LACC to study consequences of marijuana legalization in Uruguay


The FIU Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC) and the Universidad Católica del Uruguay are partnering to conduct a comprehensive research project on the legalization of marijuana and the transformation of drug policy in Uruguay.

Youngsters wait outside the Parliament building (background) in Montevideo while lawmakers debate the bill legalizing marijuana. Photo by Pablo Bielli, AFP/Getty Images.

Youngsters wait outside the Parliament building (background) in Montevideo while lawmakers debate the bill legalizing marijuana. Photo by Pablo Bielli, AFP/Getty Images.

This comes after the South American country became the first in the world to legalize the production, distribution and consumption of the psychoactive drug in December 2013. Consumers are now allowed to buy a limited amount each month from licensed pharmacies as long as they are residents; over the age of 18; and registered on a government database that monitors monthly purchases.

“We know very little about the effects of decriminalizing and legalizing the consumption of substances that have been long considered illicit,” said Jose Miguel Cruz, director of research for LACC and professor of political science. “We have never seen an entire country moving towards the legalization of this banned substance, so we have no predictions. It will be a very interesting investigation, because we don’t know what we’re going to find.”

The project will assess the impact of marijuana’s legalization on attitudes and norms regarding production, distribution and consumption. It will also explore the characteristics of typical consumers and detect potential change in the profiles of consumers as a result of policy change.

According to Cruz, Uruguay is one of the most stable and safest countries in Latin America. However, in the past 10 years, an increase in the number of violent acts perpetrated by drug users, combined with an influx of foreign cocaine and marijuana, prompted officials to pass the bill in an effort to tackle the potential problems arising from the expansion of illegal drug markets.

“We don’t expect to extrapolate what we find in Uruguay to the U.S. Uruguay is a much smaller country,” Cruz said. “But we can contribute to the debate about marijuana legalization in the U.S. What has happened in Uruguay has been on the table for many years. This is great, national experiment.”

The project is funded by the Open Society Foundations.