Last week, the lower chamber of Uruguay's parliament passed a bill to legalize cannabis. Although the move shocked United Nations drug war proponents, it elated pot legalization advocates around the world.
One of those advocates is Alison Holcomb, director of drug policy for the ACLU of Washington, who ran the campaign to legalize pot in Washington State. Since her landslide victory in November, Holcomb has become a bit of a celebrity in pot politics.
Not coincidentally, Holcomb visited Uruguay three times this spring by invitation of the Junta Nacional de Drogas—akin to our federal "drug czar"—and advocacy groups. They spoke about how Initiative 502 passed in Washington State, and she continues to join weekly calls with Regulación Responsable, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations promoting the legalization bill. "Alison has been very important to us," says Sebastián Aguiar, a lead organizer for the group. Holcomb provided them with technical expertise and moral support, he says.
If the cannabis law is passed by Uruguay's upper chamber—a move Aguiar expects sometime in late September—and signed by the president, it would mark the first time a nation has legalized marijuana since the plant was internationally prohibited by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, currently signed by 180 countries. (Pot is still technically illegal in places like the Netherlands and Portugal, and the one nation where it's actually legal, North Korea, never signed the treaty.) Holcomb sees Latin American countries as crucial defectors in the strategy to dismantle pot prohibition.
"Uruguay is a critical domino," she says. "The fact that a Latin American country is leading the way is so important to building momentum toward change in nations suffering most under current prohibition regimes, like Mexico."
Holcomb thinks Guatemala and Colombia could be the next countries to opt out of the US drug war, and says the stateside marijuana votes have provided necessary cover for countries under friendly fire from our federal government. "The votes in Washington and Colorado accelerated the conversation. The threat of US sanction has been greatly diminished."
And as our vote helps Uruguay, their vote will help us, Holcomb says. "Success abroad protects success at home."