Research on the implementation and the consequences of legalizing Marijuana in Uruguay

The project on “Implementation and consequences of legalizing Marijuana in Uruguay” deals with normative, social and criminological questions which emerge with  the legalization of marijuana. Legalization of marijuana triggers various questions related to international law in particular the question of how legalization can be accommodated within the framework of the Single Convention and the Vienna Convention. From this perspective not only analysis of legal problems is important but also the study of national and international discourses on the future developments  of  drug policies.

From a criminological point of view, the study of the possible adverse effects of legalization becomes an issue of paramount importance. Possible adverse effects might be in particular the increase of consumption and a related increase of medical, psychiatric and social problems. Besides impacts on traffic accidents, the stepping stone assumption must be studied (graduating to hard drugs). Increased levels of school and education related problems and spill over problems (such as drug tourism, nuisance around cannabis  and facilitation of access for children) have been discussed as possible adverse effects of legalization. Furthermore, attention must be  given to the co-existence of illicit markets for cannabis, the involvement of criminal gangs and the impact legalization has on the criminal justice system (including the prison system).

The research will be based on a 5 pillar approach.

(1) Monitoring adverse and intended effects of legalization.

Prevalence and incidence of cannabis consumption will be studied on the basis of school based and general population surveys. Hidden populations (at risk) will be covered by qualitative research methods based on observation and interviews with key persons from hidden populations as well as from welfare departments and other institutions likely to be informed on populations at risk (dropouts from school, homeless, ex-prisoners, etc).

Implementation research will generate data on the operation and performance of the system of production and distribution in place after legalization. This will include the analysis of spillover effects on the basis of observation and systematic reporting.

Analysis of official statistics, interviews and observation methods will provide for data which will enable our research group to analyze the effects on the legalization on the criminal justice and correctional systems.  Longitudinal data on arrests, criminal convictions and prison populations will help to answer the question of whether legalization results in reducing costs coming with penal prohibition of marijuana.

(2) Health monitor

Health related data will be generated through cooperation with the health system (demand for treatment, observation of medical problems). This approach necessitates cooperation with specialized treatment facilities, general clinics and with medical practitioners.

(3) Legal (comparative) analysis (international and national law)

A third pillar concerns legal and comparative analysis of national and international laws. Particular emphasis will be laid on

which legal models of cannabis control are currently implemented

what international law (in particular the Single Convention) refer to cannabis control

how the US states of Colorado and Washington as well as the Federal level of the US deal with questions of international law

(4) Policy analysis.

Developments in the legalization political debates and policies in North America, South America and Europe as well as within the United Nations and its specialized system of drug control (Narcotics Board) will be closely followed up. The experience of US states such as Colorado and Washington will be particularly relevant for our study. Furthermore, policies adopted and adjusted in The Netherlands will be included.

(5) Communication and dissemination of research results

Finally, the project seeks to establish a network of research dealing with legalization issues and will establish links to drug research related networks in North America and Europe. From 2014 onwards seminars will be organized in order to present and discuss research results related to the legalization of marijuana. Besides scientific research reports, best practice rules will be developed within the framework of the project. Such best practice rules will provide for guidance to various administrative and professional groups dealing in practice with implementing and monitoring legalization of marijuana. A second set of best practice rules will be developed for policy makers. The Uruguayan experiment will generate valuable knowledge which shall be made available for policy makers in Latin America and beyond.