Cardoso Endorses Uruguay’s ‘Regulacion Responsable’

Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso publicly announced his support for Uruguay’s marijuana regulation bill
July 13-19, 2013

CardosoIn an op-ed first published in Mexico’s El Universal and Brazil’s O Globo on Tuesday, Cardoso praised the proposal’s potential to take away profits which fuel illcit drug trafficking networks, saying it was “worthy of serious consideration.” 


From the op-ed:   

 There are a number of factors which illustrate the need for regulatory control in Uruguay and many other parts of the world, in particular, the fact that users are bound to the criminal black market. These people are effectively steered to a lawless retail market that does not refuse sales to minors, express concern for people who develop problematic, nor certify the product for sanitary requirements, and involves the supply chain in the context of violence and crime.

These are just some of the dangers for people who use marijuana. But the market itself generates additional concerns. The revenue from this market sustains an informal economy, the scope of which can only be guessed. Official reports have estimated that the size of the marijuana market in Uruguay is between 30 and 40 million dollars annually. How much of this money is used to corrupt security forces along the borders of the countries of origin? How much of this money is used to bribe the police or laundered through financial institutions? How much to buy weapons and fund criminal groups? 

The ex-president, who currently chairs the Global Commission on Drug Policy, also noted that the focus of the bill seemed to be on its public health and citizen security benefits. But perhaps the most significant element in the piece was the last section, in which Cardoso recognized the work of Regulacion Responsable, the civil society platform of individuals and organizations who have come out in support of marijuana regulation in Uruguay. “With much enthusiasm I salute the work of Uruguayan citizens, and with satisfaction publicly adhere to Regulacion Responsable,” reads the op-ed’s last line.

The piece was picked up by several other international media outlets that morning (it was mentioned in this article from Ecuador’s El Comercio, and by news agency AFP) before gaining coverage in Uruguay. News site Montevideo Portal was the first local outlet to report on the development, and by Tuesday afternoon it had been echoed on the websites of newspapers El Observador and El Pais, as well as those of radio stations El Espectador and Radio 180.  In written press, the news received slightly less coverage. Progressive paper La Republica featured an article on it in its Wednesday edition, and the full op-ed was finally published in leading daily El Pais on Thurday (see attachments).  

While this was not the first time Cardoso has weighed in on marijuana policy in Uruguay (he described President Jose Mujica’s initial proposal to nationalize marijuana cultivation as “unprecedented” and “almost too far” in September 2012), his mention of Regulacion Responsable was big news. Fortunately for the campaign, most of the above outlets mentioned Cardoso’s praise of the civil society platform in addition to his support for the bill. Regulacion Responsable took full advantage of this endorsement, issuing a press release “celebrating” the development which is prominently featured on its website. 

In Other News 
  • After Congressman Anibal Gloodtdofsky, of the conservative Colorado Party, said last week he would be willing to vote for the measure, it looked as though there was a slight chance that lawmakers outside the ruling Frente Amplio (FA) coalition would support the bill on the upcoming July 31 vote in the lower house. Gloodtdofsky is of the same Colorado faction as Fernando Amado, another lawmaker who has expressed support for marijuana legalization in the past and even approved some of the bill’s articles in the Addictions Committee vote earlier this month.  However, in a 10 to one majority vote on Tuesday the sector decided to oppose the bill as a single bloc. In addition to blocking Gloodtdofsky’s support, the vote suggests that Amado would not have backed the bill in the full House vote anyway. 
  • On Monday the National Alliance sector of the National Party (PN) published a column by Jorge Larrañaga, the PN’s likely presidential candidate in October 2014,  in which he lashed out at the government’s marijuana regulation bill. Calling it “unilateral, makeshift, inefficient, irresponsible, unheard of and dangerous,” Larrañaga accused the government of lowering the perception of risk associated with marijuana, which he characterized as an addictive substance. “How are we supposed to answer our children when they ask us: ‘is marijuana good or bad?’” he asked. Larrañaga also said the bill, if passed into law, would lead to “‘laundering’ of illegal marijuana,” whereby illicitly-cultivated cannabis would end up on the legal market.  The column was widely reported in El Pais, Radio Espectador, El Observador, and several TV news shows, and likely would have dominated headlines more if it were not for Cardoso’s announcement of support. 
  • Others in the National Party followed Larrañaga’s lead, with Senator Jorge Saravia writing an op-ed in La Republica arguing that Uruguay “is not the Netherlands,” and cannot effectively regulate marijuana because of an alleged failure of effective bureaucracy in the country. PN Congressman Javier Garcia also criticized the initiative in an El Pais op-ed over the weekend, claiming that the “heavily financed” campaign was inexplicably pushing a “frenetic race to approve the legalization of marijuana, as if it were a matter of unquestionable urgency demanded by the public.” Another PN lawmaker, Hernan Bonilla, has an op-ed in today’s El Pais accusing the president treating the Uruguayan public like “laboratory rats” and “wanting to submit us to an experiment for big countries to see what happens.” 
  • One notable black sheep in the PN crowd was Congressman Jose Carlos Cardoso, who has made statements indicating varying degrees of support for the bill in the past. On Monday, El Diario published an op-ed in which the representative recognized the “enormous contradiction” that using drugs is legal in the country while selling them is not. He also noted that leaving marijuana to the black market “empowered mafias” and that “drug consumption can be regulated as doctors regulate pharmaceuticals.” Although in  a recent interview Cardoso made it seem unlikely that he would vote for the bill, his use of this language (each of these same arguments have been employed by Regulacion Responsable) proves that the campaign has altered the discourse surrounding marijuana policy in the country. 
  • Members of the campaign have not taken the attacks from the National Party lying down. On Tuesday, high-profile Regulacion Responsable member and cannabis researcher Raquel Peyraube sent an open letter to Larrañaga in which she criticized many of his arguments from a medical standpoint, backing up her position by citing scientific research on the drug. She also framed regulation as a necessary step to tackle a problem currently unaddressed in the country, writing “we need to clarify that regulating isn’t the same as liberalizing, as Dr. Larrañaga as a laywer well knows. It means to contain, limit, separate what is possible from what is not.” The letter was mentioned on Radio El Espectador’s popular Suena Tremendo show, and after it picked up steam on social media, Larrañaga declined to respond to it directly by tweeting: “Get Tabare Vazquez to respond.” This is a reference to former President Tabare Vazquez, who will likely be the FA’s candidate next year. Vazquez has distanced himself from President Jose Mujica’s stance on marijuana, but has so far refrained from openly challenging the bill. 

On Wednesday, the letter earned Dr. Peyraube a television appearance on the popular morning show Good MorningUruguay, which invited her to speak about the medicinal use of cannabis. She spoke for 20 minutes nearly uninterrupted, detailing the research on medical marijuana use while cautioning that “marijuana doesn’t cure anything, but helps in the treatment of many things." According to Peyraube: “instead of talking so much, we need to read more.”

Uruguay News Analysis, July 13-19 (By Geoffrey Ramsey)