Legalized Marijuana in Uruguay Has Roots in 19th Century EuropeAugust 5th, 2013 by Dean Foster | Discuss This »
Last week, legislators in Uruguay’s lower house voted to legalize marijuana. This decision is yet another example of this small South American country’s (a country often accused of being quiet or boring) unexpected status as a petri dish for socially liberal experiments. In the 21st century Uruguay has set itself apart from its neighbors by retaining conservative economic (and sometimes political) policies, but simultaneously defining itself as a socially liberal force – marijuana, same sex marriage, and abortion are all now legal in Uruguay.
The cultural genes that allow for this socially liberal and economically conservative duality go back to Uruguay’s settlement. The main colonization of the country happened in the 19th century by Europeans of different nationalities (not just Spaniards, but Italians, Germans, and Swiss) as well as Americans. Unlike many other Latin American countries which were colonized by conquistadores in the 15th and 16th centuries (for example, Mexico or Peru), Uruguay’s colonization happened under the very utopian ideas of Europe’s 19th century social policy implementation. This European social liberalism was mixed with conservative economic ideas mainly stemming from the United States – the Chicago economic school policies had such a profound effect on the development of Uruguay’s very conservative capitalist policies, that it took the 1970’s revolution to oust their influence over the government.
This mix of 19th century European social policy with American conservative economic policy laid the groundwork for present day Uruguay. The result is a very open capitalist system based on conservative economic principles and a penchant for radical social experimentation. Thanks to Uruguay’s geographic location in a rather small and isolated corner of the continent, this dichotomy is possible in a secular but Catholic country. It also explains why marijuana legalization in Uruguay makes a lot of sense.
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