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."

Additional reporting by AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?