Uruguay set to legalise marijuana after President Jose Mujica's bill goes through congress

The bill would make Uruguay the first country to have a government led legal marijuana industry

Uruguay's proposal to create a government controlled legal marijuana industry has made it halfway through congress, giving President Jose Mujica a long-sought victory in his effort to explore alternatives to the global war on drugs.

All 50 members of the governing Broad Front coalition approved the proposal in a party line vote just before midnight on Wednesday, keeping a narrow majority of the 96 lawmakers present after more than 13 hours of passionate debate over the issue of legalisation.

The measure will now go to the Senate, where Mr Mujica's coalition has a larger majority and the bill is expected to be passed within weeks, making Uruguay the world's first nation to create and regulate a legal marijuana market.

Once passed, the bill will allow marijuana to be sold in pharmacies to adults over the age of 18 and a registry would be created of those who purchase it to prevent users from buying more than 40 grams a month. Carrying, growing or selling marijuana without a license could bring prison terms, but licensed consumers could grow up to six plants at a time at home. Growing clubs with up to 45 members each would be encouraged to spurn enough marijuana production, driving out unlicensed dealers and drawing a line between marijuana smokers and users of harder drugs.

Uruguay would become the first country to regulate both the production and sale of the drug.

"Sometimes small countries do great things," said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the US Drug Policy Alliance. "Uruguay's bold move does more than follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington. It provides a model for legally regulating marijuana that other countries, and US states, will want to consider - and a precedent that will embolden others to follow in their footsteps."

Marijuana legalisation efforts have gained momentum across the Americas in recent years as leaders witnessed the death toll rise following military responses to unabated drug trafficking in Mexico and Central America.

Presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala have joined Mr Mujica to call for reforms, and a recent report by a commission of the Organization of American States encouraged new approaches such as legalisation of marijuana.

"At the heart of the Uruguayan marijuana regulation bill is a focus on improving public health and public safety," said Hannah Hetzer, a Drug Policy Alliance staffer. "Instead of closing their eyes to the problem of drug abuse and drug trafficking, Uruguay is taking an important step towards responsible regulation of an existing reality."

Legislators in the governing coalition said putting the state in charge of a legal marijuana industry could be successful as it may help prevent the global war on drugs, which has so far been both a costly and bloody failure. Supporters argue that displacing illegal dealers through licensed marijuana sales could save money and lives. They also hope to eliminate a legal contradiction in Uruguay, where it has been legal to use the drug but illegal to sell it, buy it, produce it or possess it.

However, critics warn that marijuana is a gateway drug and said cultivating the habits of addicts is playing with fire.

National Party Deputy Gerardo Amarilla said the Government was underestimating the risk of marijuana, which he called a "gateway drug" for other chemical addictions that foster violent crimes. "Ninety-eight per cent of those who are today destroying themselves with base cocaine began with marijuana," Amarilla said. "I believe that we're risking too much. I have the sensation that we're playing with fire."

Mr Mujica said that he has never consumed marijuana, but argued that regulations are necessary because many citizens in Uruguay do consume the drug, despite results from recent polls suggesting two-thirds of Uruguayans oppose the plan.

The latest proposal "has some adjustments, aimed at strengthening the educational issue and prohibiting driving under the effects of cannabis," ruling coalition deputy Sebastian Sabini said. "There will be self-growing clubs, and it will also be possible to buy marijuana in pharmacies".

An Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis would be created, with the power to grant licenses for all aspects of a legal industry to produce marijuana for recreational, medicinal or industrial use.

Dozens of pro-marijuana activists followed the debate from balconies overlooking the house floor, while others outside held signs demonstrating their support.

"This law consecrates a reality that already exists: The marijuana sales market has existed for a long time, but illegally, buying it from traffickers, and in having plants in your house for which you can be thrown in jail," said Camilo Collazo, a 25-year-old anthropology student. "We want to put an end to this, to clean up and normalize the situation."

The heavy toll, costs and questionable results of military responses to illegal drugs have motivated marijuana legalisation initiatives in the US states of Colorado and Washington, and inspired many world leaders to re-consider current drug laws.

The secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Inzulza, told Mujica last week that his members had no objections. Pope Francis, however, said during his visit to Brazil that the "liberalisation of drugs, which is being discussed in several Latin American countries, is not what will reduce the spread of chemical substances."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant

£12024: Randstad Education Leeds: Teaching Assistant September 2014 start - te...

Physics Teacher

£130 - £162 per day + UPS: Randstad Education Hull: Physics Teacher Long Term ...

IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn