HomeNewsAnalysisUruguay Presidential Candidate Proposes Rehab for Marijuana Users

Uruguay Presidential Candidate Proposes Rehab for Marijuana Users


The Uruguayan presidential candidate favored by drug policy reform advocates, ex-President Tabare Vazquez, has presented his rehabilitative interpretation of what marijuana regulation would look like if he wins the upcoming elections, irritating some cannabis activists and undermining users’ faith in the state registry.

In an interview with Radio Rural on September 18, Vazquez proposed to use the registry of marijuana buyers and cultivators created by the law as a way to expose them to drug treatment. His remarks were widely circulated in local press, as well as by news agency Reuters.

As newspaper El Observador reported, Vazquez framed the marijuana law as a kind of rehabilitative measure. He told journalists:

[The law] doesn't make it easier to access the drug. A kid who wants the drug is going to buy it on the black market anyway. Now, with the consumption of marijuana being regulated, he will have to buy it under certain conditions. For instance, there will be a record of drug users, and that registry of drug users, via the sale in pharmacies, will provide a greater understanding of those who are involved with drugs and will give the state the opportunity to try to rehabilitate this person at earlier stage. […] In addition it will ensure the consumption of a much purer drug than can be obtained on the black market.

As El Observador noted, Vazquez’s statement follows similar lines as a remark made last year by Health Minister Leonel Briozzo, in which the minister said that the user registry would be used to "generate specific measures to encourage users to eventually abandon consumption."

Vazquez's approach is understandable considering his medical background, as well as the law’s provisions concerning improving drug education. So far the current government appears to have prioritized the regulatory/commercial side of the law rather than preventing marijuana use. Earlier this year the National Drug Council (JND) launched a public awareness campaign aimed at increasing the perception of risks associated with drug use -- called "Every drug has risks" -- but as it relied mostly on bus posters and flyers, its reach has been minimal.

Still, while increasing the risk perception associated with marijuana makes sense, logic dictates that a misguided or heavy-handed campaign on this front might be risky at this stage, as it could dissuade users from registering with the state. During the debate over the law last year, the existence of the registry itself caused some controversy, with several pundits calling it invasive, and more than one opposition lawmaker framing it as a violation of individual liberties.

SEE ALSO: More Drug Policy Coverage

To reassure these critics, the bill was amended to state that the registries of potential buyers, home-growers and cannabis club members will be "sensitive data," which in Uruguay means that they cannot be revealed "without the individual’s express written consent." Vazquez's talk of the state using the registry to "rehabilitate" users, then, seems to contradict the spirit of this provision.

And setting aside the fact that the registry doesn't provide for a method of detecting problematic use among home-growers or club members, Vazquez's remarks seem to ignore the fact that the regulatory guidelines released in May already somewhat restrict the consumption rate of marijuana. While the law established that users who wish to purchase the drug in pharmacies could buy 40 grams per month, the regulations limit this to a maximum of 10 grams per week.

Julio Rey, president of the Federation of Cannabis Growers of Uruguay (FCU), was nonplussed by Vazquez's remark. In a subsequent interview with this author, Rey said the candidate had shown "a great lack of understanding" of the law and its implementation, and hopes that it will not "worry" those interested in signing on to the registry. According to the FCU head, Vazquez also clashed with the current administration’s own policies. "The state established 40 grams as the limit for acquiring marijuana, and considers anything above 1.5 grams per day to be "problematic use.'" Rey said. "Where does it say that someone who legally consumes 40 grams per month should be rehabilitated?"

This post was originally written for an e-mail list of policy experts interested in tracking the politics of marijuana reform in Uruguay.

Geoffrey Ramsey is a part-time researcher for the Open Society Foundation's Latin America Program and a freelance writer. Any views or opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

COLOMBIA / 25 SEP 2017

The top US diplomat in charge of anti-drug policies abroad attempted to mend bruised relations with key Latin American partners,…


Former officials and current celebrities have signed a petition advocating for the legalization of marijuana in Mexico, adding weight to…


To slow the spread of the coronavirus, Argentina -- a transhipment point and growing consumer market for illegal drugs --…

About InSight Crime


Who Are Memo Fantasma and Sergio Roberto de Carvalho?

24 JUN 2022

Inside the criminal career of Memo Fantasma  In March 2020, InSight Crime revealed the identity and whereabouts of Memo Fantasma, a paramilitary commander and drug trafficker living in…


Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…


Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…


Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.


Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…