The marijuana legalization experiments underway in Washington state, Colorado and Uruguay have prompted or accelerated discussion about changing pot laws in many nations, and activists say momentum is building in advance of a special United Nations convention on drugs scheduled for 2016. Here's a look at how some countries are rethinking their approach to marijuana.
Personal possession of controlled substances has been decriminalized, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in 2009 that found imposing jail time for small amounts of drugs was a violation of Argentina's constitution, which protects private actions that don't harm others. Lawmakers have been working to amend the law since then, with proposals ranging from simple decriminalization in accordance with the ruling to a complete overhaul of the country's drug laws. In December, Father Juan Carlos Molina, a Catholic priest newly appointed as the nation's drug czar, said Argentina deserves a debate about whether to follow Uruguay in regulating marijuana.
Brazil doesn't punish personal drug use, but trafficking or transporting small amounts of controlled substances is a criminal offense, punishable by drug abuse education or community service. Some advocates worry the law isn't clear about how much constitutes personal possession, and that can leave it up to a judge's discretion about whether someone should be punished. In November, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso joined former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in calling for the decriminalization of all drugs and allowing countries to experiment with drug regulation.
President Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, a hard-hit cocaine transit country, took the floor at the U.N. last fall to join a growing chorus of nations calling the drug war a failed strategy. He announced that his country would study different approaches and praised the "visionary" experiments in Washington and Colorado — as well as U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to let them go forward. Currently, prison terms of four months to two years can be imposed for the possession of drugs for personal use.
The island nation is a primary source of marijuana in the Caribbean. Possession remains illegal and can result in mandated treatment or rehabilitation, though usually the defendant pays a small fine and is not incarcerated. Nevertheless, many young men wind up with criminal records that affect their future employment options, and recent changes in the U.S. and Uruguay have given momentum to activists who hope to see marijuana decriminalization approved soon.
In Mexico, where tens of thousands have been killed in drug war violence in the past seven years, there is no general push to legalize or regulate marijuana for recreational use. But in more liberal Mexico City, a metropolis of 8 million, lawmakers have introduced a measure to allow stores to sell up to 5 grams of pot. The plan has the mayor's support but could set up a fight with the federal government. Small amounts of marijuana and other drugs have been decriminalized in Mexico since 2009.