Global Marijuana March – Legalisation movements in Latin America

The Global Marijuana March has been celebrated in hundreds cities of the world since 1999. But this year, their claims jumped off the streets and social networks to land on the pages of newspapers much more readily than in the past. This can be explained by the fact that the reform claims and debates on the decriminalisation of drug use have considerably grown, perhaps fuelled by some "victories", including the legalisation of cannabis production and use for recreational purposes in Colorado and Washington, as well as increased scientific evidence that is progressively breaking the taboo around cannabis.

Most marches took place on 4th May and had a massive and global impact, enabling Latin America to shine and share of its political demands with specific proposals on decriminalisation, but also the legalisation of cannabis cultivation and use. From Buenos Aires to Mexico City, going through Quito, Bogota, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago de Chile, Lima, Caracas and Montevideo, there is growing awareness of the damage generated by drug prohibition, and what better than a festive demonstration to prove it!

In Argentina the march brought together more than 100,000 people (almost twice as much as last year). In Buenos Aires, they demonstrated from Plaza de Mayo to Plaza de los Dos Congresos with clear claims – the immediate end of arrests and prosecutions of non-commercial cannabis growers, regulation of cannabis access, state authorisation of medicinal and industrial cannabis use and scientific research, state recognition for the rights of associations of cannabis users and growers, the enactment of a law on public, free and universal access to healthcare to respond to the harms associated with drug use, and the removal of criminal sanctions on people who use drugs and respect for their human rights.

In this framework, A.C. Intercambios also highlighted the importance of reforming Drug law Nb. 23,737, which criminalises drug use, and is currently stuck in Congress. According to declarations made by Martin Navy on THC at the newspaper Página 12, there were up 12,000 lawsuits for violating this law in 2010 in the country. Other organisations such as the Asociación de Reducción de Daños de la Argentina (ARDA), marched under the slogan "Some drugs are harmful, Some laws make it worse."

In Peru, organisations such as IDPC member Centro de Investigación, Drogas y Derechos Humanos (CIDDH), drove the event “#MMM”, highlighting the need to challenge the myths associated with marijuana use and its criminalisation. Former Peruvian drug czar Ricardo Soberon, researcher and psychologist Baldomero Caceres, and Luis Gavancho from Legalize Movement Peru, contributed to the event which included an open space for debate calling on the state to allow cannabis cultivation and ensure the rights of all citizens. CIDDH indicated, "the State's efforts to eradicate drugs and drug use have had little effect and led to a vicious cycle of persistent human rights violations, as can be highlighted by the fact that 9,000 users were arrested by the police in 2012 despite the fact that drug use is supposedly decriminalised”.

In Colombia, the Global Marijuana March has been taking place since 2009 under the name “Carnaval Canábico”, when Medellin joined the global call. However, it was not until 2011 that groups gathered in Medellin, Cali and Bogota to think about how to articulate actions carried out in different cities. They therefore decided to hold all events in May to achieve greater impact. This year, an event organised in Medellin on 12th May was attended by more than 70,000 people. This was followed by other events in Cali on 12th May and 19th May in Bogota and Pereira. Six additional cities have, for the first time, organised similar demonstrations: Ibagué, Bucaramanga, Manizales, Pasto, Barranquilla, La Paz and Cartagena.

Members of the Colombian Cannabis Community in Medellin told Zara Snapp in an interview that the main objective of the demonstration was to "give visibility to cannabis culture, inform users and non-users about cannabis use – which can range from medicinal, industrial, environmental, spiritual and recreational use – and show that cannabis users are neither sick people nor criminals, but human beings who choose [to use cannabis] in their own right and based on the autonomy of their own body. "

This demonstration also called for an end of the discrimination and violations of human rights faced by cannabis users – through mandatory treatment, layoffs or beatings – and the inclusion of the voice and the votes of cannabis users at the meetings organised by the national government to discuss the new drug statute. "We demand the normalisation of the cannabis plant, the legalisation of its industrial and medical uses, the decriminalisation of possession, use and production for recreational purposes (either in the form of self-cultivation or by farmers growing the plant)", added the Medellin groups. The groups also underlined the importance of making links between cannabis social clubs, coffee shops and cannabis dispensaries, taking into account an endemic view, to adapt these experiences to the Colombian context and specificities.

Meanwhile in Brazil, more than 2,000 protesters marched in Rio de Janeiro and further demonstrations are planned in 37 other cities throughout June. Bill 7663/10 – which reviews the reforms adopted with the 2006 drug law, increases penalties for drug trafficking and encourages the forced treatment of people who use drugs) is constantly criticised during the demonstrations, which have sometimes been repressed by the police. A blog written on the march cited official figures from the Ministry of Justice, denouncing, in an Open letter to Niteroi society, the fact that "incarcerations for drug offenses have increased by 284% in the last decade" and that there was a marked stigmatisation of black, poor and young people who currently represent "40% of inmates."

In Uruguay, the march was held on 8th May. Organisations such as Prolegal / Proderechos and Asociación de Estudios Cannabicos de Uruguay (AECU) spoke in favour of the legalisation of cannabis in the country. They hope that the law promoted by the government, and is currently being debated in Parliament, will be approved to ensure more effective and humane drug policies in the country, and allow problematic users to be treated within the healthcare system, and no longer as criminals sent to prison. Both organisations also stressed in this manifesto that the "use" of drugs is not synonymous with "dependency" and that much drug use is recreational, medical and/or scientific. They also showed their enthusiasm for the self-cultivation model included in the drug law proposal, and for the decriminalisation of possession for personal use.

In Chile, the decriminalisation of marijuana use also took a prominent role. Many demonstrations have already taken place in the country under the slogan "No more prisoners for planting", at a time when there are moves towards drug law reform. Tagged as #YoVotoAutocultivo, the demonstrations continued on 18th May, in parallel with a multitude of civil society events on drug policy reform and possibilities for regulatory models for consumption.

In Mexico, the Marijuana March, attended by CUPIHD and Espolea (both IDPC members), also attracted many participants. CUPIHD reported that the march in Mexico City was attended by nearly 4,000 people (although other sources reported 12,000 participants). The march made the front page of newspapers such as La Jornada, which, 10 years ago, had already collected testimonies from participants at a similar march. This year, La Jornada stressed the need for reform of the country’s cannabis law – which could be passed after PRD deputies submitted bills in the Congress.

Finally, in Ecuador, a country that is moving towards the decriminalisation of drug use, protesters emphasized the necessity of proportionality in cannabis laws and called for social and scientific research on the benefits of cannabis and cannabis production that could add value to Community National Industries. These demands can be read in the manifesto of the global marijuana march for May 2013.

In a word, the winds of change are spreading in Latin America where, for the first time, not only the assemblies in the streets but also presidents in power, are questioning the prohibitionist paradigm of drug control.