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Supporters march for the legalization of cannabis in Uruguay.

I will never forget the watershed moment when, in December 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to completely legalize cannabis on a nation-wide level. I was away from my home country, so I couldn’t take part in the celebrations. Due to the fact that I missed the moment perhaps, I kept some healthy dose of skepticism while still being happy that something new was about to be implemented. Uruguay was finally going to embark on a revolutionary alternative to the, world-wide and decades-long, failed war on drugs.

Cannabis isn’t good or bad. The best thing to do with debates, between those who claim cannabis will solve all our problems and those who claim cannabis is one of the deadliest things on Earth, is to avoid them. Something similar happens with cannabis legalization. It isn’t a simple thing of “yes” or “no”, but mostly about how. It was pretty clear that the government legalizing cannabis in Uruguay had very paternalistic leaders spearheading the efforts, including former President José “Pepe” Mujica. For instance, “El Pepe” has claimed that he favors coerced rehabilitation, a reason more than enough to remain skeptical of his proposals. In addition, it wasn’t convincing that the arguments used in Uruguay to legalize cannabis were mostly centered on vague public health and public security promises instead of addressing individual liberty issues. Regardless, December 2013 was a moment to celebrate.


President José “Pepe” Mujica, who led the initiative to legalize the sale of marijuana in Uruguay.

In April 2014, the Uruguayan government unfolded the regulatory framework. It included a state-enforced oligopoly, production and consumption quotas, price-fixing, coerced registrations, and many other characteristics that usually peeve liberty-minded people. Overly-regulated and centrally planned markets rarely work the way their designers intend. One need not be an expert in economics to know this, but rather visit the many examples in history that show this theme.

It’s been more than two years since cannabis was legalized in Uruguay. What can be observed? I visited Uruguay three times since the legalization, and I interviewed relevant policy-makers and activists about how legalization is working. The new recreational cannabis legislation allows users legal access in just one of the following three ways: grow at home, belong to a club, or buy it in licensed pharmacies.

  • Home-growing is working, though mostly in a grey area. This is because there’s a government database where those who want to legally have plants at home need to register, and most of the home-growers don’t want to. The government states that the register is for your own protection, but it’s hard to blame home-growers for being skeptics after decades of state persecution; especially when the actual president, Tabaré Vázquez, played with the idea of using the database to “rehabilitate” users. Police harassment has also been a problem. Until recently, law enforcement agents had no idea what to do. For instance, they didn’t know if they should seize plants or not, or if they could ask for proof of registration. Although there was quite a lot of confusion, it seems it was corrected. It’s also understandable that these changes need some time. In any case, I personally saw home-growing everywhere. It wasn’t uncommon before legalization, but now the number of grow-shops skyrocketed. Last month I attended the massive 2015 Uruguayan Expocannabis, and it was heavily focused on home-growing.
  • The cannabis clubs are also working in a somewhat grey area. There are about 20 of them growing plants in Uruguay, but only a handful finished all the legal paperwork. In any case, it’s good that there’s an alternative for those who don’t want to grow cannabis at home nor buy it in the black-market. For a sign-up fee and monthly fee determined by each club, members can have their weekly quota of cannabis. Of course, the clubs are non-profit organizations, and the only way to have access to their cannabis is to become a member. The number of members, plants, and cannabis grams you can receive is limited. The price per gram also tends to end up being much higher than black-market prices, but the product is expected to be much better than what you can find in the street.
  • The big failure until now is the promised, so-called “government cannabis”. It has been delayed many times during the past two years. Government officials repeat they are working without any haste in order to do it right, but Uruguayans are getting anxious. The new president isn’t as enthusiastic about cannabis legalization as the one before, so there’s no reason to believe the implementation is going to be any quicker now. Two companies, finally, recently obtained the permit to grow cannabis under strict government regulations and controls. Hopefully one day in 2016, cannabis is going to be sold in pharmacies all across the country. The major problem with the government is that they are regulating each tiny step of the production and selling process, even fixing the price, and when the government fixes the price the whole production ends up being over-regulated and inefficient. As a result, everyone is still skeptic about seeing weed in the pharmacies any time soon. Even if they do manage to sell high quality cannabis this year at the promised about $1 (US dollar) per gram price, the limited production quota will surely not be enough.

Tourists are not allowed to buy cannabis, which is only legally available to Uruguayan nationals and legal residents. However, with just a quick google search, one can find, for about 200 USD, a tour through Montevideo that includes a “free gift”. Hence, an example of the market spontaneously working around absurd regulations.

And what about the promises of better public health and public safety? Unfortunately, it’s hard to see clear improvements. It’s certainly positive that many users now get their cannabis from legal or semi-legal sources and avoid the terrible Paraguayan brick weed that’s sold on the black-market. However, some statistics are perplexing. While in 2013 (the year before cannabis legalization) 739 persons were indicted for drug-related crimes, in 2015 that number raised to 1233. Cannabis is still by far the most seized drug, with 2015 being the historical record. While statistics can be explained in different ways, there’s one big lesson to be learned here. Drug Policy reformers shouldn’t promise big crime reduction and consumption reduction once cannabis is legalized. This is especially true in places such as Uruguay, where before cannabis legalization, its consumption and possession in reasonable quantities was already legal and largely tolerated. Making vague promises could end up being fuel for those who oppose legalization. Drug policy reforms should be about individual liberty and reducing the harms of the state’s reaction to drug-related phenomena.

Some people see the Uruguayan experiment as a model to copy as an alternative to the war on drugs. While Uruguay certainly bravely paved the way for other countries to introduce drug reforms, it shouldn’t be considered the best or only alternative. Unfortunately, there’s not a perfect way of legalizing cannabis or any other psychoactive substance. In Uruguay things have always been done the same way: state-centered, slow, bureaucratic, and in a certain way still improvised.

One of the most important lessons we can learn from this experience is that legalizing cannabis isn’t just about legalizing, it’s rather about how to legalize. What kind of market do we want once the product is legal is the important question that needs focus. Many local political, historical, social, economic, and cultural factors play a huge role when creating the new regulations. In the following years we’ll probably see many new experiments and keeping our eyes open and learning from them will be pivotal. At least now we have new experiences to learn from, previously all we had was the one-size-fits-all prohibition failure.

Edited by ESFL Executive Board Member Todor Papić.

From 21 to 22 April 2016, students from all over Europe will convene in Prague for the 2nd Austrian Economic Meeting Europe. Born at the 2014 Mises University, and inaugurated in April 2015 in Vienna, the meeting aims to bring together students and young researchers in the Austrian tradition and offer them a forum to share and discuss their current research.

The conference will be held at the CEVRO Institute. During the day, we will hold presentations of papers and discuss our research, and the evenings will provide opportunities to get together. Last year, we were students (from bachelor to Phd level) from universities in seven European countries and from fields as diverse as economics, law, history, archaeology, and African studies.


The conference itself is free. You will, however, have to pay for your own accommodation and travel costs. The AEME organisation will be providing a suggestion for accommodation during the conference at a later date. In addition, right after the AEME, the Prague Conference on Political Economy will be held at the CEVRO Institute from April 22-24, and participants have been made a special offer for participating in this event. This is a great opportunity to widen your interest with a great variety of speakers.

If you are interested in joining the AEME, please feel free to contact us or visit www.aem-europe.com. The registration deadline for the Conference is March 21st. However, if you want to be accommodated in our shared accommodation, you will need to bindingly register before March 1st

We are looking forward to seeing you in Prague in April!

Call for Papers.

At the meeting, you have the chance to give a presentation (roughly 20 minutes) on your current research. If you want to present, please send your abstract until 1 March 2016 to W.G. Cornax. There is no fixed range of topics, as long as it is broadly within the “Austrian tradition”. Topics are not limited to economics, but can also encompass history, politics, sociology, or other social sciences. Last year, we did manage to give everyone who wanted to present some research a chance to do so.

Our 2015 Regional Conference season was a huge success. We ran 19 conferences with 3155 participants in 2015 from September to November!

To see the details, check out our infographics. We hope you are looking forward to fall 2016!

All information will be available at www.esflconferences.org


In an attempt to better share our current activities with our network, SFL is beginning an SFL Around the World blog post series.  At the beginning of each month, each region will post an update to their regional blog page to share their current activities.  Please stay tuned for more updates next month!

Even though it was frigid in most corners of Europe, our students and activists turned out in great numbers to get more acquainted with their fellow freedom fighters and craft new strategies at leadership fora. These one-day events allow students interested in spreading the ideas of liberty through Students For Liberty’s model of activism to get a hands-on training featuring our best leaders and practices.

They’re planned and organized by local student leadership, and gives dozens more curious students an opportunity to learn more about our methods for social change.

Our leaders organized two different leadership fora in the month of January: one in Budva, Montenegro, and another in Tel Aviv, Israel. The first concentrated on a regional strategy for liberty, encompassing most of the Balkan states, and the latter was an intense communication workshop held at Tel Aviv University.

Local Coordinator Slobodan Franeta was the main organizer of the leadership forum in Montenegro, which spanned over two days and offered different levels of training and collaboration. Held at Akademija znanja, the first day featured 20 leaders specifically invited to take part to carry forth the banner of liberty activism in the Balkans. On the second, more than 60 other local students joined from Podgorica.

Overall, it united many different students to talk about challenges and opportunities they will be able to conquer in the next few months. More photos can be in the Facebook album found here.

The leadership forum was held in Budva, Montenegro with students form all over the Balkans.

In Israel, students organized their second-ever leadership forum, the first taken place a few months ago. This time, the goal was to essentially unite the main group leaders in Israel, of which there are over thirteen.

Students gathered at the Tel Aviv Leadership Forum.

The first half of the day was chaired by Dudi Perahia, a local attorney who specializes in negotiation. He gave very practical advice for communicating to get what you want and negotiating with other parties.

Local Coordinator Bill Wirtz, from Luxembourg but studying in eastern France, gave a very captivating speech on “Communication In and Out of the Liberty Movement”. Wirtz was able to use practical examples and pull from his experience knowledge dealing with liberal political parties in order to give sound advice.

Students gathered at the Tel Aviv Leadership Forum.

Local Coordinator Anna Shnaidman, who organized the leadership forum, gave a very stellar short speech on body language as an important communicative tool and national coordinator Rotem gave a talk on general communication standards to the group.
The total number of participants ended up being about 15 from either Haifa, Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv. Each had previously been involved in the more headline-grabbing type of activism we’ve seen from Israel lately (the pro-gun protests, the natural gas rallies, etc.).
The students were more than engaged, and they were able to have many practical conversations about how activism works differently across the entire international spectrum of SFL, and what Israeli students in particular can learn from them. They loved hearing the practical stories of SFL activists’ struggles and successes in Serbia, in France, in Kenya, and Guatemala. There will be so much more to come on this front!

Also be sure to sign up for the European Students For Liberty Conference now! The registrations are open.


Both US and European free-market scholars meet in Prague. Study with them!

Do not miss a unique free-market master’s program PPE (Philosophy, Politics, Economics) with superb international faculty.

– Language: English
– Location: Prague, Czech Republic
– Duration: one year (3-trimesters)
– International faculty includes Michael Munger (PPE Director at Duke), Peter Boettke (PPE Director at GMU) and many others
– Three specializations: PPE & Studies of Transition, PPE & Austrian Economics, PPE & International Politics
– Scholarships available


Follow the PPE FB site to get updates on scholarships and new visiting faculty.

Read what professor Boettke, currently the world-leading scholar in Mises-Hayek tradition and Director of Austrian School Specialization of the PPE program, has to say about its quality and importance

As is often the case in Students For Liberty, we take great pride in the achievements of our leaders, both in the classroom and beyond.

Therefore, we’d like to recognize a wonderful achievement by our very own Daniel Issing, Senior Local Coordinator For European Students For Liberty in Germany, who has been awarded the 8th annual Vernon Smith Prize for the Advancement of Austrian Economics. The prize is sponsored and organized by ECAEF – European Center of Austrian Economics Foundation, Vaduz (Principality of Liechtenstein), and includes a first prize award of 4,000 EUR.

The prize was awarded to essay competition entrants who answered the question: Edward J. Snowden: Hero or Villain?

The second and third prize winners were Demelza Hays from the United States and Mats Ekmann from Finland.

They’ll all go on to present their essays at a special event in Vaduz, the Principality of Liechtenstein, on February 15, 2016.

Daniel Issing at the ESFL Heidelberg Regional Conference in 2015

ESFL Senior Local Coordinator Daniel Issing was awarded the 8th annual Vernon Smith Prize in January 2016 for his essay on ‘Edward J. Snowden: Hero or Villain?’

More on Daniel:

Daniel Issing is currently pursuing his master’s degree in mathematical physics at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.

Before that, he studied physics with focus on mathematical and theoretical aspects at the University of Heidelberg and played a large part in sustaining the SFL Heidelberg group which organized the immensely successful Fall 2015 regional conference with over 260 students in attendance.

Daniel was regional director of that conference. Before that, he worked in Canada and France, perfecting his French, and polishing up his résumé.

He first got in touch with SFL via an essay contest by the Liberal Institute (Zurich), and is currently a fellow of the liberal Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

Besides physics, he has always been keenly interested in philosophy and economics, and studied Austrian economics auto-didactically.

His other great passions are music and sports; he has been playing the guitar for 15 years, enjoys volleyball and squash as well as hiking, biking and running marathons.

Read more on ECAEF’s website.

We are happy to announce the 2016 ESFL Awards are now open for nominations!

Nominate the best student, group and event of the past year.

This time, we are introducing the new ESFL Awards to honor the students who have fought for freedom in the past. As the European Students For Liberty Conference will take place at the Law Faculty of Charles University, we will award:

  • The Karel Bacílek Student of the Year Prize
  • The Boris Kovaříček Group of the Year Prize
  • The Veleslav Wahl Event of the Year Prize

Those three students of the law faculty were sentenced to death in 1950s as the first student victims of communism in the Czech Republic. This year it’ll be 67 years since they met their tragic and unjust end.


The Karel Bacílek Student of the Year Prize

Karel Bacílek (1920 – 1949) applied to the Law Faculty of Charles University in 1945, after the liberation of Czechoslovakia from Hitler. During his studies he disagreed with the policies of the communist party which were crushing the democratic traditions. Following his arrest on 17. December 1948, he was brutally interrogated and forced to plead guilty for crimes against the state. He was executed in 1949.

The Boris Kovaříček Group of the Year Prize

Boris Kovaříček (1927 – 1949) started a student group called Šeřík after the communist coup, deemed illegal by the state. The goal of this group was to connect like-minded students and to distribute anti-communist leaflets. After he was arrested and tortured (he could barely stand or sit) a hastily-organized show trial was followed by his execution.

The Veleslav Wahl Event of the Year Prize

Veleslav Wahl became active in the anti-Nazi revolt, together with his father and uncle, beginning in 1939. He was a member of the national council at the end of the war. Upon joining an anti-communist group after the revolution, he was promptly arrested on 12. September 1949 and sentenced to death after a show trial.


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UPDATELAST CALL for applications to the first winter Seminar in Philosophy, Economics, and Advocacy of Classical Liberalism! We have awarded most available places already, so apply quickly if you want to join us. Bellow you will find more details about the seminar.

We are excited to announce that applications for the first Winter Seminar in Philosophy, Economics, and Advocacy of Classical Liberalism are now open! Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, and the first batch of applicants will be informed on February 1st. Apply soon, only 20 ambitious students and young professionals will be accepted. Bellow you will find more details about the seminar.

When and where?

To be held on February 26-28th, in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

What is it?

A three-day in-depth seminar organized by European Students For Liberty and the Slovenian think tank Institute Libertas, intended for young people who would like to advance their understanding of certain theoretical concepts relevant to classical liberalism, and learn how to advocate these ideas effectively in practice. Thus the goal is to combine critical thinking and debating about theory with training in communication, strategic-planning and organizing, which are all crucial to us being effective advocates and scholars of liberal ideas.

How will it work?

Instead of having an all lecture-based seminar, we will use different formats of learning / interaction to tackle the various goals the seminar is focused towards. These are:

  1. Advancing the understanding of (economic, philosophical and political) theory, and encouraging scholarly interest in classical liberal ideas.
  2. Putting ideas into practice – learning about planning, strategy, organizing, communication and fundraising.
  3. Networking (evening socials) – on Saturday this will include a beeronomics evening where we will see how economics transcends the classroom and affects something as everyday as a glass of good beer. The practical part of this lesson will be a beer tasting, of course.

Who is it for?

Young minds passionate about advancing liberty. The seminar will be held in English since we plan for the majority of our speakers and attendees to be international. Ideal candidates are students who are already active in the liberty movement, think-tankers, and all other young people who would like to challenge themselves to take it beyond the basics both when it comes to ideas and when it comes to making those ideas a reality.

Why should you apply?

We will provide an intellectually stimulating and challenging weekend, and you are bound to leave with a lot answers – as well many new questions! – but most of all, full of ideas which you will be able to apply in projects, research, writing, and other activities. Our evening socials also promise to be both entertaining and excellent opportunities for networking. Additionally – Ljubljana itself is a beautiful city full of little delights you really shouldn’t miss.


In an attempt to better share our current activities with our network, SFL is beginning an SFL Around the World blog post series.  At the beginning of each month, each region will post an update to their regional blog page to share their current activities.  Please stay tuned for more updates next month!

Even though it was nearing the end of the year, our volunteers and activists still kept it going!

Throughout the month of December, our leaders hosted various #NoNanny debates on the topic of lifestyle regulation.

image (1)In Warsaw, Poland, they concentrated on the state regulation of gambling with five great panelists: a libertarian radio owner,an ex-MP from a left-wing party dealing with hazard regulations, the top Polish poker player, poker deregulation activists and the head of Customs Service labour union.

polandThe dozens of students in attendance received poker chips they could exchange for small drinks and the conversation continued on sometime after the debate.

This was just one of the latest events organizations by Polish Students For Liberty.

12377712_802849316490608_1236288827154971190_oNot soon after, leaders from Students For Liberty Czech Republic held a debate on drug legalization in Brno, filling the house up with students hearing about the issue for the first time from a libertarian perspective.

As a country with a very liberal drug policy, hearing the thoughts and questions on the Czech Republic’s certain advantages and disadvantages made for an interesting conversation among the speakers.

Over 60 students came for a hot debate and were treated to books and materials from our End the Drug War campaign.

Students also received the Czech-translated version of Why Liberty, handed out for free. Photo album found here.

1486008_1096576943719784_2628944768906083510_oAnd last, but certainly not least, SFL Serbia hosted its own debate entitled: “Alcohol and Tobacco: State or Personal Choice?” The debate was held just before winter break, but that didn’t stop dozens of students from taking part in this hot debate.

“Citizens should have the right to make all decisions concerning themselves. The State should not be a regulator which decides which behavior is acceptable and what isn’t,” said Rastko Petaković, a local attorney who argued for the individual action side.

1275010_1096577117053100_5379923912390928876_oHis opponent was Slavica Đukić Dejanović, a current MP and former minister of health in the Serbian government.

The debate remained calm, though hit on many important topics, and students were treated to materials handed out by our local leaders.

And though these are just three highlighted events, there are plenty more which are happening across the continent.

It was a great way to end the year.

Subscribe to our blog to follow the update from our successful regional conferences last fall!

Also be sure to sign up for the European Students For Liberty Conference now! The registrations are open.


This article was written by local coordinator Alfredo Pascal.

About 1,500 people from around 70 countries were there. Among them: students, grandmothers, Bernie Sanders fans, conservative republicans, all types of libertarians, academics, researchers, scholars, Black Lives Matter activists, harm reductionists, nonconformist law enforcement agents, psychedelic researchers, people who want to be able to party safe, prison reform activists, and activists of all kinds. What do all of these categories can have in common? That they were all intermingled together at the Reform Conference in Washington DC on November 19-21 to discuss how our world’s drug policies have changed, are changing, and will change. Even while disagreeing on some issues, we all agreed that we need to give the final blow to the war on drugs, more accurately described during the conference as the war on some people who use or are perceived to use some drugs. But it doesn’t end there. We were brought together by the Drug Policy Alliance in the biggest gathering of people who want to reform failed drug policies to discuss how these drug policies could now be based on science, compassion, health, and human rights.

I had the impression that the focus of drug policy reform is gradually shifting from the “why” end the drug war of the past few years to “how” to do it, and this has interesting implications. Who supports criminalizing cannabis consumers nowadays? Enthusiasts of more punitive laws are becoming a relic of the past while drug reformers are becoming mainstream. Of course there’s still a very long way to go. The victories already achieved are just the beginning, and still far from enough, but they can only signal more victories to come. So what happens when everyone agrees that we should end the war on drugs? We disagree on how to do it, and that’s why gatherings such as this one are so important.

The variety of topics discussed was impressive. Drug education, minorities related issues, cannabis legalization, criminal justice system, harm reduction, militarization of police, activism, addiction, the darknet, drug rehab, psychedelic research, and much more. Many of the sessions were strongly focused on story-telling and appealing to emotions. Take a look for instance at this video. Throughout the conference there was a strong commitment to social justice. The problem of mass incarceration was one of the most popular ones and some interesting questions were put forward more than once. Once we agree that we should end the war on drugs, what do we do about all the damage that has already been done? One thing that kept me thinking was the issue of how do libertarians could address the issue of reparations. When we talk about the so-called new green rush, can we just ignore the racial disparities: white entrepreneurs now getting rich for doing something that put proportionally more black people in jail in the past decades? Another big issue was the next UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) which will be held in April 2016 in New York City. Students for Sensible Drug Policy hosted a simulation that engaged students on a participatory level, encouraging them to learn about the details of an event that might have a huge impact in drug policies worldwide. There were also all sorts of community sessions addressing special issues, from regional ones to specific topics such as religion, recovery, law enforcement, medical issues, and much more. Film screenings at the end of each day followed by post-screening discussions were also an excellent idea to keep on discussing about drug policy into the night. Another highlight of the conference took place the day before it’s official opening. It was called the Federal Lobby Day and it allowed some of us to visit Members of Congress to encourage them to support pending bills in Congress that could give a new direction to America’s drug policies. To round it all up, a highly symbolic ceremony and party took place next to the Washington Memorial, it was called Catharsis on the Mall: A Vigil for Healing the Drug War, and it was some kind of small-scale Burning Man at the heart of the war on drugs.

So what’s likely to happen in the future? In America I see the focus of drug policy reformers shifting to a more comprehensive social justice movement. That means that we’ll see the reform movement intermixing even more with other movements such as Black Lives Matter and prison reformers. It’s not going to be just about legalizing weed. On an international level, we’re probably going to see more tolerance toward alternatives to the failed war on drugs. We won’t have a one-size-fits-all approach anymore. Uruguay and Colorado have different realities so it’s reasonable to think they might do things differently. It took a while to learn that top-down prohibition is not the panacea, now let’s hope we can keep this a learning process and don’t expect new magical solutions. Because prohibition was the only way to deal with drug related problems, we barely had opportunities to learn from other alternatives. Now that’s changing. Decisions are going to be more decentralized, taken at a national or even local level and we’re going to see more trial and error. Libertarians could have a lot to contribute. Let’s be there so that the principle of self-sovereignty remains at the core of drug policy reformers. Let’s be there so that this keeps on being a decentralized process of experimentation and learning. In the words of Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the DPA: “Drug Policy Reform is many things but it is foremost a movement for liberty and freedom. Freedom from oppression, freedom from fear, freedom from incarceration, freedom from racism, freedom!” Let’s keep it that way, and let’s encourage more libertarians to be at the next Reform Conference in Atlanta in 2017.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. European Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, visit our guest submissions page. Like what you read here? Subscribe here for a weekly update on ESFL’s events, leadership programs and resources.