UNITED KINGDOM: Sting and Sir Richard Branson have been accused of using Uruguay as a ‘laboratory’ for the drug reform after backing a campaign to legalize cannabis in the country.
Uruguay is set to become the first nation in the world to allow anyone to grow, sell and consume cannabis freely.
The legal changes were brought about after a high-profile lobbying and TV campaign by pressure group the Drug Policy Alliance, on which both Sting and Sir Richard Branson are honorary international board members.
Gerardo Amarilla, of the opposition National Party, launched a blistering attack on the two celebrities, accusing them of risking the health of a generation with their ‘meddling’ and turning the country into a ‘laboratory’ for reform.
He said: ‘They shouldn’t be meddling in Uruguay.
‘They should be lobbying in their own country because they’re not going to suffer the consequences here, the security and health problems.
‘They’re out of context here. This is a test that could go wrong and harm a generation.’
Speaking shortly after legislation was passed though congress, last week, Mr Amarilla, said the Uruaguan government was ‘playing with fire’ given the health risks he said were linked to marijuana use and the majority of Uruguayans are said to be against the decriminalisation move.’
He 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 percent of those who are today destroying themselves with base cocaine began with marijuana,’
Responding to the controversy, Sir Richard Branson said: ‘While I am a member of the Drug Policy Alliance International Honorary Board (In Formation), I am an active member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.
‘For the past few years we have examined the war on drugs using a science-based approach.
‘We feel strongly that it has failed and that there needs to be a different approach.
‘We believe drugs should be treated as a health problem not a criminal problem.
‘This is a global problem, not a national issue, and everyone who can should speak out to help change the failed war on drugs.’
Under a new bill passed by Uruguayan lawmakers, only the government would be allowed to sell the drug.
The controversial measure has the backing of President Jose Mujica, who says it will remove the profits from drug peddlers and divert users from harder drugs.
Uruguay’s House of Representatives passed the bill by 50 to 46 votes following a fierce debate earlier this month and it is expected to get an easier passage through the Senate to become law in the next few weeks.
Buyers would have to be over 18 and would be able to grow six plants at home or buy up to 40g (1.4 oz) a month in specially licensed government pharmacies.
The authorities would take control of every aspect of the marijuana business, from harvesting the plant right through to distribution and sale.