In the Fall of 2015, Argentina’s citizens voted on a new president to replace controversial politician Cristina Kirchner, and the result may have negated more than half a decade of work on the part of progressives across the South American country. The new President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, a civil engineer and member of the Republican Proposal Party, is staunchly anti-cannabis and does not plan to further ex-President Kirchner’s legalization strategy, which was largely the extension of a 2009 Argentine Supreme Court ruling that stated it was unconstitutional to punish people for using cannabis in the privacy of their homes.
As neighboring Uruguay took the major step of legalizing cannabis for recreational use and regulating it with staunch government bureaucracy in 2013, the progressive citizens of Argentina began to actively appeal for a change in their cannabis law, which despite the Supreme Court ruling treats cannabis as a drug on par with harder narcotics like cocaine and heroin. President Macri believes, according to Australia’s The Bubble, that cannabis use should be punished “no matter what,” not even allowing room for a medical loophole in the future. This is despite the fact that an Argentine company was awarded one of only two contracts to produce cannabis for the Uruguayan government as it implements its legal market in 2016. If Macri decides to put a stop to this unprecedented business opportunity, he could be depriving his countrymen and women of the chance for a very real economic stimulus in addition to depriving them of the medicine some of them desperately need.
The election of Macri came at a time when it seemed that the long process of change in Argentina’s cannabis laws was finally beginning. In May 2015, 100,000 people took to the streets and marched on the Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires’s main square, in order to demand the “legalization and normalization” of cannabis in the country. The plaza is Buenos Aires’s most active hub of protest, and is also the location where the mourning mothers of those who were “disappeared” by Argentina’s frighteningly recent fascist regime still gather in silent protest. In May, this spirit of protest combined with the feeling of a fiesta as cannabis’s advocates took over the plaza, showing the strength of both Argentine cannabis culture and its proponents’ desire for change.
But the protest looks to have been in vain, as Argentina’s 1989 statutes regarding cannabis, according to which simple possession is punishable by up to six years in prison, still stand. Many in Argentina believe that the only way legislation allowing for the use of cannabis could possibly pass would be if the government were directly responsible for regulating the market, following the Uruguayan model. In that bordering country, the government compels users to register with a database, a condition which could have negative implications in a country so recently released from the iron grip of fascism. Similarly, the Uruguayan government is the only legal sales outlet for cannabis in the country, a stipulation Argentina would likely duplicate in the event of a political change of heart. Uruguay stands to make a great deal of money despite the low prices it demands for its product—approximately $1 U.S. per gram of cannabis. It also regulates the amount people can buy in the hopes to prevent abuse. All of South America is closely watching Uruguay, but in the near future it seems that a legal Argentina is still some years—at least one president’s term—away from becoming a reality.