"Drugs in the Americas: Legalization of Marijuana:" Inside the debate

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This week, the Brown Palace is playing host to a three-day conference sponsored by the Inter American Press Association, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the rights of the press in the Americas as a whole. Among the panels taking place as part of the conference, a tri-language mix of Portuguese, Spanish and English, was " Drugs in the Americas: Legalization of Marijuana." Featured during the conversation, moderated by Roberto Rock, executive editor of the Mexican daily El Universal, were Colorado official Jack Finlaw and Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Broadcast live on IAPA's website, Finlaw, chief legal council to Governor John Hickenlooper,and the DPA's Nadelmann discussed the impact of Colorado's marijuana legalization on an international level.

Finlaw spent most of his time explaining to the audience Colorado's rules and regulations for the use of marijuana, both for retail and medical use. He opened up the session saying that Colorado, along with Washington state, has been having "a good time" since passing the law last November.

Finlaw said he was encouraged by the green light provided by the Cole Memo, a document penned by Deputy Attorney General James Cole confirming that the federal government wouldn't sue Colorado in order to block Amendment 64; it was released in late August.

For his part, Nadelmann thought the eight measures outlined in the memo could be used as a guide for international marijuana legalization as well.

"We've come a long way when you have the chief council in this country not talking about the drug war," Nadelmann said. "But how do we make it safer for public consumption?"

In addition, Nadelmann mentioned how public polls on marijuana have shown much greater support for legalization in the past ten years. The last time he spoke to the IAPA, he said, "there was a lady in the White House saying the most dangerous person in America was a teenage marijuana user." He used to apologize for U.S. actions when he visited other countries, he said. Now, however, he is hopeful.

"Today, I'm proud of the country," Nadelmann said. "We are the global leader in responsible regulation."

According to Nadelmann, he's been working closely with Uruguay, which is preparing to adopt marijuana measures similar to Colorado's next month. Public opinion polls in Latin and South America are not as supportive of legalization as those in Colorado, he acknowledged -- but he said the government officials of countries there see changes in the states as offering them opportunities for reform. Nadelmann even mentioned that the Dutch are feeling left behind.

Finlaw also indicated that Colorado was working closely with Uruguay in drafting proper policies for regulation and "to share best practices with them." He pointed out that "we are the incubator and test case, and we expect to learn from mistakes."

Nadelmann conceded that the legalization of all drugs probably won't happen anytime soon, since only around 10-15 percent of Americans surveyed back such a policy. Nonetheless, he would like the Americas to adopt programs that are in place in Portugal, where the government produces heroin for people who are addicted as a way to eradicate crime and the black market.

He believes people are going to use illegal drugs no matter what, and it is governments' responsibility to regulate and decriminalize it. Keep non-violent offenders out of jail, and providing health care and treatment for those with addictions should be the countries' goal, he concluded.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana banking and Senate hearing: Will the fix in the works stick?"

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