By Geoff Ramsey

With the return of Milton Romani as Uruguay’s drug czar, and with the medicinal use and commercial sale elements of the country’s cannabis law taking shape, incoming President Tabaré Vázquez has given his clearest signal yet that he will support its rollout when he takes office on March 1.

Even though Vázquez shifted his tone following his electoral victory, and insisted that he would implement the law to the letter, as recently as December 4 he publicly expressed doubts about current President Jose Mujica’s claim that the measure will have an impact on insecurity and take a bite out of criminal profits. These doubts were often repeated in local and international press, and led to more than a bit of speculation over whether the law would go “up in smoke” under the new president.

Yet despite all this hand-wringing, this week brought excellent news for drug policy reform advocates watching Uruguay. On February 2, newspaper La Diaria reported that Milton Romani, former drug czar and Uruguay’s ex-ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), would be resuming his post as national drug secretary under Vázquez. On February 5, Romani confirmed the news in an interview with El Observador, in which he himself described his nomination as a signal of “continuity.”

Romani will bring a unique combination of policy expertise and political influence to the job. He not only occupied the same post from 2005 to 2011, he also was one of the first voices in Uruguay to publicly call for regulating the black market for marijuana. Indeed, Romani advocated for the creation of state mechanisms to “regulate and control the markets of production, sale and consumption” of illicit substances in a report published by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) in April 2012, two months before Mujica made headlines for a similar proposal.

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