Uruguay has become the first country in the world to make it legal to grow, sell and consume marijuana.
For decades, smoking cannabis has been legal in Uruguay. Seeing a group of youngsters sharing a joint in the park has become a familiar scene, but growing and buying the drug have remained illegal.
But that has changed couple of days ago.
Uruguay became the first nation in the world to regulate the production, sale and consumption of cannabis after a new law was passed by the country's senate. After nearly 12 hours of debate, senators gave the government-sponsored bill their historic final approval. The law allowing registered Uruguayans over 18 to buy up to 40g (1,4oz) of the drug a month is not expected to come into force before April, 2014.
Hundreds of young people gathered outside Congress in Montevideo to follow the vote on a giant screen. Many shared a joint of marijuana with their friends. They partied amid reggae music and some waved marijuana leaves.
There was an atmosphere of celebration inside the Senate too, with dozens of supporters of President Mujica following the debate from the spectators' gallery.
Dozens of supporters of the bill proposed by the left-wing President Jose Mujica gathered outside the Congress in Montevideo to follow the vote.
Presenting the bill to fellow senators, said Sen. Roberto Conde of Uruguay's Broad Front coalition, which supported the measure, it was an unavoidable response to reality, given that the "war" against drugs had failed. It is understood that a regulation-based policy has positive consequences for health and public security, given that, on the one hand, it can produce better results when it comes to education, prevention, information, treatment and rehabilitation in relation to the problematic uses of drugs," said Roberto Conde. "On the other hand, it helps fight drug trafficking, which fuels organized crime and criminal activities that affect the security of the population."
The historic approval comes amid growing debate over drug legalization in Latin America. A group of former presidents and influential social figures, including Brazil's Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Mexico's Ernesto Zedillo and Colombian ex-leader Cesar Gaviria, have called for marijuana to be legalized and regulated. But President Mujica recently asked during an interview why the former leaders only spoke out about the legalization of marijuana after they had left office.
Once the president signs the bill, the state will control the production and sale of cannabis.
The bill goes several steps further than existing legislation in the Netherlands, where growing cannabis is not legal, although the authorities turn a blind eye to those who grow some plants at home. It bears some similarities to drug laws in the US states of Colorado and Washington, where the sale of cannabis for medicinal or recreational use was made legal in 2012. But Uruguay is the first nation state to regulate the production, distribution and sale of the drug.
The country, which has a population of fewer than 3.5 million people, has so far been spared much of the drug-related violence that other Latin American countries have suffered from, but officials say it is time to tackle drug gangs before they get too strong.
* Registered residents can buy up to 40g (1.4oz) marijuana/month.
* Up to six plants can be grown at home.
* Buyers and growers have to be over 18.
* Tourists are excluded.
* Advertising is forbidden.
* Prices will be fixed by the government.
Marijuana clubs of anywhere from 15 to 45 members would also be allowed and granted permission to grow up to 99 plants at a time. Users would have to register, and those claiming to use cannabis for medical reasons would have to show a doctor's prescription. Marijuana would also be sold at licensed pharmacies.
Once the bill becomes law, there will be a 120-day period to give the government time to adopt regulations and implement it.
The United States Position
The U.S. has spent billions of dollars to put a crimp on the production end of drug trade, and it has steadfastly pressured Latin American leaders not to consider any sort of drug liberalization. But this year in Uruguay, said Hannah Hetzer, policy manager for the Americas at the Drug Policy Alliance, there's been nary a peep from the U.S. embassy about the marijuana law.
That may be because of domestic U.S. politics. Back in 2012, when Guatemala's president proposed legalizing drugs, the U.S. embassy there "swiftly responded" with a stern statement warning about the "major public health and safety threat" from drugs.
But then Colorado and Washington legalized pot, making any American admonitions against doing the same sound a little hollow, not to say hypocritical. In a September speech at the U.N., Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina commended, perhaps a little bit mischievously, "the visionary decision of the citizens of the States of Colorado and Washington."
The U.S. may also have seen little threat from legalization in Uruguay. The country is far away from the front lines of the war on drugs in places like Mexico or Central America, at most a bit player in international trafficking.
Citizens of the USA also are in favor of the cannabis legalization. Actually, now for the first time in the history, a clear majority of Americans (58%) say the drug should be legalized. This is in sharp contrast to the time Gallup first asked the question in 1969, when only 12% favored legalization.
Colorado and Washington States are already there. More to follow… Yesterday, December 11, 2013, New York Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) and state Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) announced at press conference their intent to introduce legislation to legalize the possession, cultivation, and retail sale of cannabis. Similar initiatives are in pipelines of New jersey, Main, Michigan, Arizona, Alaska, California, and Hawaii.
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