By Kristel Mucino,  Latin America Program, Global Drug Policy Program

In Uruguay, the consumption of drugs, including marijuana, is not punishable with prison time. Paradoxically, the cultivation of marijuana for personal consumption is a crime, as is the purchase of marijuana. As a result, users who buy small amounts of marijuana and those who cultivate it to avoid buying it from criminal networks end up at odds with the legal system. Currently, Uruguay is debating the creation of a legal, regulated marijuana market. This is a sensible step that would allow police to direct resources and attention to more dangerous drugs. It would also help minimize the harms inflicted on non-violent offenders whose lives, and those of their families, are often ruined by harsh prison sentences.

To illustrate the futility and damage of current drug laws, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Transnational Institute (TNI) interviewed Alicia Castilla. At 66 years of age, she was arrested and imprisoned in Uruguay for three months for cultivating marijuana that she uses for her research books and personal consumption (to help her sleep). In this video testimony, she talks about the suffering caused by her imprisonment in Canelones (an Uruguayan prison) and her experience with the justice system in Uruguay. 

This video was produced by WOLA and TNI with the support of Open Society Foundations. It is the latest in a video-series featuring people who have spent time in prison for drug-related crimes, enduring harsh sentences that are disproportionate to the crimes they committed. These personal stories represent the rarely revealed human cost of the war on drugs. The series complements a WOLA-TNI study investigating the prison systems of eight countries in Latin America, and the impact of harsh drug laws and sentencing. The study compiled statistics from the Uruguayan National Drug Board showing that 79 percent of the police operations between 2006 and 2009 related to marijuana involved quantities of less than 100 grams.

A regulated marijuana market would free police resources to focus on criminal gangs distributing dangerous drugs such as paco and ensure that people like Alicia Castilla are not criminalized and imprisoned.

Keep up-to-date with drug policy developments by subscribing to the IDPC Monthly Alert.