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Recent cannabis policy experiments in the USA and Uruguay: What are they and what are their implications?

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This paper describes the recent proposals to legalise recreational cannabis use in the USA and Uruguay and places them within a historical context of the past 50 years. It begins with a broad brushstroke account of trends in cannabis use among young people in developed countries like Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. It then explains why de facto decriminalisation came to be the predominant policy response to cannabis in these countries. It explains the constraints on domestic drug policies imposed by the international drug control treaties before outlining the policy experiments that have increasingly challenged the international drug conventions on cannabis. These include: de jure decriminalisation of cannabis possession and use in some states in the USA , Australia and Europe; de facto legalisation of retail cannabis sales in the Netherlands; the passage of referenda establishing liberally defined “medical marijuana” schemes in some US states in the 1990s and 2000s; the passage of referenda that legalised recreational cannabis use in Colorado and Washington state in 2012; and the decision of the Uruguayan government to legalise cannabis in 2013. The focus of my talk is on answering the following questions about these policy experiments: what might we expect to happen to cannabis use and problems related to cannabis use after legalisation? What constitutional and other complications do the state laws raise for the US Federal government? What implications do these policy experiments have for the future of the international drug control treaties? How may the outcomes of these experiments affect cannabis policies in other developed countries?

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