Legislators in Uruguay vote to legalize marijuana

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Legislators in Uruguay vote to legalize marijuana

Uruguay, a small nation of only 3.3 million people, has become a source of more socially liberal policies; the country enacted a new, groundbreaking abortion law, legalized gay marriage and strives to

July 31, 2013 - Legislators in Uruguay vote to legalize marijuana

Uruguay, a small nation of only 3.3 million people, has become a source of more socially liberal policies; the country enacted a new, groundbreaking abortion law, legalized gay marriage and strives to become a hub for renewable energy ventures. The use of marijuana is already widely tolerated by the Uruguayan authorities, but now they are about to take their tolerance to a new level...

José Mujica, a former guerrilla and now President of Uruguay, in support of a bill to legalize marijuana that has been approved by the lower house said that this (the bill) is a great way to channel police resources to focus on street and organized crime and smugglers involved in trafficking other (hard) types of drugs. The bill had been approved after a lengthy debate, but finally legislators in Montevideo voted 50 to 46 in favor of it.

In 2012, Mr. Mujica urged legislators to postpone the vote on the bill, because polls had shown that a majority of the population opposed it. But now, despite a majority in Uruguay still thought to be opposed to the legalization, after some non-profit organizations had teamed up and ran an educational campaign to explain the medical advantages and economic benefits of cultivating the plant in Uruguay, instead of letting criminal networks smuggle it from Paraguay to Uruguay on a large scale, legislators went ahead and voted for the bill.

The bill now goes to the Senate and could come into effect as early as this month. Under the new law, it would be legal to grow six plants per household. It would also be allowed to form cooperatives to grow marijuana, the limit in this case would then be 99 plants. Even private and commercial companies would be permitted to cultivate cannabis, but their only customer would be the government, which would then distribute it via licensed pharmacies. A citizen wanting to buy marijuana would then have to register with a federal registry before he is allowed to purchase a maximum of 40 grams per month. To prevent drug tourism, the bill would restrict legal purchases to Uruguayans.

Laura Blanco, president of Uruguay’s Cannabis Studies Association said that the bill was very innovative because the legislators decided to regulate the entire chain of production, distribution and access to the drug and that it was an encouraging sign for other nations in Latin America, where political leaders will now discuss whether to follow Uruguay's example in overhauling their drug policy or not.

Other people in Uruguay are in complete opposition to the legislation and are afraid that this "adventure could end up endangering a whole generation because the use of marijuana could skyrocket among young people"; as Gerardo Amarilla, an opposition legislator of Uruguay's National Party said. Sebastián Sabini, a legislator in the governing coalition, the Broad Front, however, said, that the bill "does not promote the consumption of marijuana," but that it "regulates the use."

This new bill could have a big impact on the legislation of marijuana not only in Latin America, but also in parts of the United States and other countries around the globe. John Walsh, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group, said that "Uruguay's timing is perfect because the US, with now 19 states where marijuana is (partially) legal, is not in a position to pressurize Uruguay or other nations who may want to follow."