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Free Alicia Castilla, Uruguay on the way to legalize cannabis

Uruguay has one of the best drug policy in the continent. In Uruguay, the law does not criminalize the use of drugs or their possession for personal consumption.   Additionally, in recent years, national drug policies have prioritized the pursuit of medium and large dealers, instead of focusing resources and energy in small vendors, who are easily replaced.

Over the past decade till present day, Uruguay shows a tolerant and open mind criteria as far as marijuana is concerned.

Anyway, there is a legal vacuum in this matter. The law allows legal possession of a reasonable amount for personal consumption which is estimated by the judge’s discretion, but does not specify the origin of the “reasonable amount”.  This has meant that since 2007 the pro cannabis activist groups get together and initiate discussions with the authorities to achieve the legalization of self-cultivation of cannabis.

Last January the Judge of Atlantida (small resort near capital city Montevideo) Adriana Aziz, imprisoned Alicia Castilla a 66 year old activist, author of 2 books, Cannabis Culture and Cannabis Growing, who annually publishes a Biodynamic Almanac for  marijuana growing. With their perverse interpretation of this law judges punish self supplied users, promoting with this the drug trade.

While cultivation is prohibited in the art. 3 of Law 14.294 on the same bill in the art. 31 enshrines the right to a “reasonable” amount for personal consumption.  It would be illogical to think then that this amount has to come prepared and be purchased from a dealer and can not come in the form of  a plant and be cultivated by the user, thus breaking their link with drug trafficking.

Against this interpretation by judges of the law and demanding the legalization of self-cultivation, and the release of Castilla and another 350 consumers Uruguayan activists convened a demonstration outside the Supreme Court on Thursday February 24 /2011.  After the demonstration, in a statement to the press spokesman of the Supreme Court Raul Oxandabarat recognized the existing of a legal vacuum.

While the secretary of the National Drug Agency (Drug Czar) Milton Romani expressed to the facts as follows: “It seems not prudent and discredits drug policy that 66 year old woman, clearly not a danger to public safety, is in prison. There are other judges who have acted with other approaches to similar cases, compared Romani. In his view, the Uruguayan political system has not been able to schedule these issues “in all its complexity.” “We always respond to the problem, the problem now is an unfair situation, well then take advantage of that to legislate” he suggested.

“We estimate that there are 350 people in Uruguayan prisons for small amounts of marijuana, which can be for consumption or retail. Speaking of drug dealers with this amount is nonsense and the law has to consider these situations, involving mainly people under 35 who can not afford a lawyer, “said government deputy Sebastian Sabini (Area 609).

Echoing the popular demand, Sabini prepared a bill to legalize marijuana self-cultivation (amending Article 31 of Law 17.016, establishing a maximum size of 25 grams carrying and eight female plants per home), but he also plans to push other attending the situation of those already detained. The deputy questioned the existing legislation at the discretion of the presiding judge to decide whether the amount of marijuana a person at the time of his arrest is for personal use or to sell. According to the legislature, most of the defendants went to prison for having about 20 grams of marijuana.  “That clearly is for personal use,” said deputy majority sector of the left coalition in government.

The release of these prisoners would also help reduce prison overcrowding, a major concern of the authorities. The full discussion of this amnesty will then be resolved in Parliament after the issue of legalization.  Members Nicolás Núñez (PS), Sebastian Sabini (MPP), Fernando Amado (Colorado Party) and Daniel Radius (Independent Party) are willing to push the proposal within their respective parties.

In recent days, at the request of Congressman Amado, recent changes were made to the text. In the article that enabled “personal” self-cultivation , the concept “and domestic” was added, which allows to envision situations where the homeowner wants to share their cannabis with other people. Members also added  a permit to produce industrial hemp, which is currently prohibited because it is a variety of cannabis. Hemp is used to produce fibers which can be used by the textile industry and pulp.

Uruguay is currently in an excellent position to pass a law authorizing the self-cultivation of Cannabis, and industrial hemp, for that to be possible is necessary to promote a campaign to inform the public opinion of the profitability of this change.

That is why we request your support for our campaign.

To read Alicia Castilla’s letter from prison click here