Marijuana in the Americas: Legalize Me, Decriminalize Me, Prohibit Me

The tide is shifting in the drug legalization debate throughout Latin America.  Traditionally, regional leaders endorsed the US policy of aggressive interdiction and eradication.  But with violence from trafficking destabilizing states, many are seeking an alternative approach.

The Fresh Debate

Last year, the former Presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia called for the immediate decriminalization of marijuana.  Similarly, in March of 2012, current Central American leaders kicked off a discussion on the possibility of legalization and decriminalization.  President Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, backed by Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica and Ricardo Martinelli of Panama, held a week long drug dialogue attended by US Vice President Joseph Biden. The Central Americans called for decriminalization and the possible regulation of trafficking.  Biden reaffirmed the US policy of prohibition.

Even Colombia and Mexico, the main recipients of the US counternarcotic assistance, have endorsed the decriminalization of drugs for personal use.


In Uruguay, President Jose Mujica has called for the outright legalization and regulation of Marijuana.  His plan would allow users to cultivate the plant for non-commercial use and grant licenses to professional farmers for larger scale production.   It includes a system of user registry, tax and quality control, coordinated through the existing agency that monitors tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceuticals.

From Banana’s to Kush

The tiny islands of the Caribbean have switched from bananas to banana Kush.  When preferential trade benefits with Europe and the Archipelago ended, the region’s banana industry collapsed, causing banana farmers to replant their fields with Cannabis.  In St. Vincent, Marijuana is the largest cash crop. The island nation recently overtook Jamaica as the largest producer in the Caribbean. St. Lucia has been following suit and increased cultivation has pressured politicians to rethink the country’s prohibitionist policy.


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