Uruguay legalized marijuana a few days ago, inspiring drug reform advocates and drawing the ire of the United Nations. Here’s what the UN had to say:

“[the decision to legalize] will not protect young people, but rather have the perverse effect of encouraging early experimentation, lowering the age of first use, and thus contributing to… earlier onset of addiction and other disorders,”

And that:

“[Uruguay] fails to consider its negative impacts on health since scientific studies confirm that cannabis is an addictive substance with serious consequences for people’s health”.

And on top of that:

“Cannabis is not only addictive but may also affect some fundamental brain functions, IQ potential, and academic and job performance and impair driving skills. Smoking cannabis is more carcinogenic than smoking tobacco,”

That all sounds pretty bad, but also pretty familiar like the gateway drug/slippery slope arguments of a generation ago, so maybe the UN is issuing a statement for the sake of argument rather than for the sake of action. Let’s hope so because there are lots of things that are more dangerous for the world’s youth that don’t get the attention they deserve.

For example, if you’re a young person in Syria, poison gas will have the perverse effect of killing you. And if you’re a young person in Gaza, living under occupation will certainly have negative impacts on your health. And without question mass starvation and enslavement in the Sudan affect theĀ  job performance, driving skills, and brain functions of the youth. Yet, on each of these issues one or more UN members have found reasons to dither rather than urge direction action.

The UN has a broad mandate and can of course pursue the abstract goal of ‘drug free’ societies along with the very specific goal of “dictatorial, murderous thug free” societies, but I fear that drug warriors have a difficult time walking and chewing gum at the same time. Drug wars tend to be addictive like drugs themselves and provide a convenient escape from the kinds of constitutional, economic and even moral constraints that make fighting actual wars rather than drug wars, and creating actual policy rather than drug policy, and pursuing actual free societies rather than drug free ones – so difficult.

Marijuana legalization in Uruguay doesn’t sound like a grand social experiment to me. It sounds like a common sense solution that could be the gateway – not to drug fueled armageddon – but to other common sense solutions.