Cannabis policy experiments in the USA and Uruguay: What are they? What are their implications?


Wayne Hall
(Professor of Addiction Policy, National Addiction Centre, Kings College London, and, Director, Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research, University of Queensland)

My paper will describe the recent policy experiments to legalise the recreational use of cannabis in two states in the USA – Colorado and Washington – and in Uruguay. It places these experiments within a historical context of cannabis policies over the past 50 years and explains why de facto decriminalisation has been the predominant policy response to cannabis in these countries in part because of the constraints imposed on domestic drug policies by the international drug control treaties to which most countries are signatories. It then outlines the policy experiments that have increasingly challenged the international drug conventions on cannabis: de jure decriminalisation of cannabis possession and use in some states in the USA, Australia and Europe; de facto legalisation of retail cannabis sales in the Netherlands; the passage of referenda establishing liberally defined “medical marijuana” schemes in some US states in the 1990s and 2000s; the passage of referenda to legalise recreational cannabis use in Colorado and Washington state in 2012; and the decision of the Uruguayan government to legalise cannabis in 2013. The focus of the paper is on answering the following questions about these policy experiments: What might we expect to happen to rates of cannabis use and problems related to cannabis use? What constitutional and other complications do these state laws raise for the US Federal government? What implications do these policy experiments have for the future of the international drug control treaties? How may the outcomes of these experiments affect cannabis policies in other developed countries?

Thursday, 30th October 2014
Venue: LG4, Tavistock Place

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