Uruguay has approved a ground breaking bill legalising marijuana, making it the first country to allow the growth, sale and consumption of the drug.
The decision was made by senators following almost 12 hours of debate late on Tuesday evening, with the bill passing with 16 votes in favour and 13 against in Congress. Congress' lower house had already approved the measure in late July.
The bill, which is expected to come into effect after April, allows Uruguayan residents registered on a database and aged 18 and over to purchase up to 40g (1,4oz) of the drug each month from licensed pharmacies.
The 120-day period gives authorities time to establish a control board in order to regulate standards, prices and the amount of the drug being consumed. Everyone involved in the production and sale of marijuana will have to be registered and licensed by authorities. License-holders will be limited to growing six plants in their own home per year.
“Today is an historic day. Many countries of Latin America, and many governments, will take this law as an example,” Sen. Constanza Moreira, a member of the governing Broad Front coalition, said after the bill was passed. The legislation was proposed by President Jose Mujica, who argued the global drug war was failing and said the bill could help tackle organised crime and drug cartels. The 78-year-old is now expected to sign it into law.
Supporters of the bill gathered outside of Congress in Montevideo waving green balloons and flags and with some smoking marijuana cigarettes. But the bill has also proved contentious among both the public and politicians - opinion polls suggest nearly two thirds of Uruguayans opposed the legislation.
Marijuana use is already legal in Uruguay but production and sale of the drug were not. Opponents of the bill are now warning against the potentially negative impact of health smoking the drug could have. Former Health Minister Alfredo Solari, a Colorado Party senator said he feared the law would make it easier for children to acquire marijuana. "The effects of this policy on public health will be terrible," he added.
Senator Pedro Bordaberry warned the Government not to "experiment" with the people of Uruguay. "We are not guinea pigs", he said on Tuesday evening.