South America May Be On the Verge Of a Marijuana Legalization Tidal Wave

The news: South America's War on Drugs might have just lost a crucial element. In the wake of Uruguay's historic decision to legalize the sale and use of marijuana, other countries are reconsidering long-held convictions about keeping the drug illegal.

Argentina's counter-narcotics chief, Juan Carlos Molina, basically admitted in a radio interview that the national government is considering walking away from the war on pot. "Argentina deserves a good discussion of this," he said, mentioning decriminalization specifically. Mexico, where marijuana is already decriminalized, is also on the way to lowering penalties for weed. Mexico City's city council is considering legalizing possession of up to three marijuana plants and allowing co-operative grow clubs.

Chile's Socialist President Michelle Bachelet is considering relaxing marijuana's classification as a hard drug (adults can already consume drugs privately in Chile with no penalties), while Ecuador is debating relaxing penalties for marijuana possession.

Support for legalization of marijuana is still low — hovering around 40% across the region — but South and Central America's youth are much more in favor of changing policies. Argentine, Chilean, and Mexican youth are respectively 81%, 79%, and 73% in favor of legal weed.

The background: Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana earlier in December. Starting in just a few months, Uruguayans will be permitted to grow six marijuana plants a year (about 17 ounces' worth), and form smoking clubs of 15-45 members with a production limit of 99 plants a year.

The region's slow swing towards relaxing marijuana prohibition will depend on the success of the Uruguayan experiment, which is already seeing professional marijuana growers come out into the open.

"The law is a great way to start with this issue. For us it's really useful," marijuana cultivation supplier Juan Andres Palese told the Associated Press. "We have more customers. There are many people interested in growing their own plants. There are also many opportunists who come to the store because they see a way to make money from this new law."

If Uruguay can successfully eliminate the marijuana black market, there might be many more opportunities to relax drug laws in neighboring countries.

But legalization could backfire: Marijuana legalization seems like a good idea to many young people — as many as 65% of American millennials support it in their own country — but Paraguay's drug lords think it's even better. The Uruguayan government is planning on selling weed for approximately $1 a gram; Paraguay's cartels are selling it for $0.06 a gram in their own country and $0.30 across the border in Uruguay. As one of the region's biggest producers and traffickers of weed, that has Paraguay's counter-narcotics officials pretty worried that Uruguay will worsen their problems with organized crime. Problems like that could stall progress on other fronts and weaken other countries' resolve to change what is clearly a broken policy.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

MORE FROM

Kshama Sawant on why Seattle needs an independent investigation into the Charleena Lyles shooting

Seattle City Councilperson Kshama Sawant, member of Socialist Alternative party, discusses the Charleena Lyles investigation, tenant voter registration, why Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 and more.

The EPA seeks to undo clean water rule, putting 117 million Americans' water at risk

The new rule could have "long-reaching consequences for everyone living in the United States.”

This small Ohio town might stop treating heroin overdoses to save the city money

"People will die. It's plain and simple."

Here's what New York's first official LGBTQ monument will look like

Here's our first look at New York's new monument to LGBT communities.

How will Trump's travel ban be enforced? Here's what the Supreme Court's decision really means.

The Supreme Court's order prevents most of the ban from taking effect before the case is heard, with limited exceptions.

Tick saliva could be the key to fighting a dangerous heart condition

Ticks could hold the secret to treating this heart condition.

Kshama Sawant on why Seattle needs an independent investigation into the Charleena Lyles shooting

Seattle City Councilperson Kshama Sawant, member of Socialist Alternative party, discusses the Charleena Lyles investigation, tenant voter registration, why Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 and more.

The EPA seeks to undo clean water rule, putting 117 million Americans' water at risk

The new rule could have "long-reaching consequences for everyone living in the United States.”

This small Ohio town might stop treating heroin overdoses to save the city money

"People will die. It's plain and simple."

Here's what New York's first official LGBTQ monument will look like

Here's our first look at New York's new monument to LGBT communities.

How will Trump's travel ban be enforced? Here's what the Supreme Court's decision really means.

The Supreme Court's order prevents most of the ban from taking effect before the case is heard, with limited exceptions.

Tick saliva could be the key to fighting a dangerous heart condition

Ticks could hold the secret to treating this heart condition.