What do I know about Uruguay? Very little. But a short but glowing, article in August 25, 2013 NY Times Sunday Review described the South American country on the move with lots of foreign investment and progressive social attitudes. They are about to ratchet that reputation up one notch as the first country in the world to take their pot trade, a $40 million per year illegal operation, and turn it into a government sanctioned and operated entity.
There is a lot of resistance; justifiable fears that a state-sponsored marijuana trade will boost drug use and a lot of hashing about the details. But the baseline argument, that drug use is here, that the illegal markets flourish, and the government has not been able to do anything to effectively counter them, resonates with President Jose Mujica, who is popular enough to try something new rather than let the corrupt status-quo continue.
What I loved about this article was how well it resonated with my own observations (published here 2/18/2013) of how we fail so miserably in the war on drugs because of drugs illegal status. We hold greater control over two much more serious threats to American health, alcohol and tobacco, by regulating them rather than banning them. Making drugs illegal does not take them out of society, it only diverts them from a world of criminal behavior to one we can influence directly (as well as one that supports society through taxes rather than drains it with enforcement expense). People are going to take drugs, and even abuse them. We can control that reality much better if we acknowledge that and not pretend it away.
I like when a place like Uruguay, hardly a dominant world power, explores ways to address challenges that all countries face, and at present, all fail at address with any logic.