URUGUAY: Uruguay is poised to become the first nation to create a legal, regulated marijuana market, encouraging growers and sellers to produce enough pot to keep users from depending on illegal drug traffickers.
The plan to put the government at the center of a legal marijuana industry has made it halfway through the congress, giving President Jose Mujica a long-sought victory in his effort to explore alternatives to the global war on drugs.
“I’m an old man … I never smoked marijuana, but I have come to notice what the life of young people is like,” Mujica said Thursday in a radio address defending the proposal that was approved late Wednesday by congress’ lower house. “The consumption is already happening — it’s around every corner, and it comes from a clandestine market that by nature has ferocious rules. It’s a monopoly of mafias.”
Mujica said that for every 10 deaths by drug overdose, there are 100 people murdered by drug traffickers or shot down in the fight against organized crime.
“The worst thing of all is that it never ends!” he said. “How many keep falling? And drugs are still out there — why? Because the profits are enoooooormous!”
The move drew both praise and criticism Thursday as word spread that 50 of 96 lawmakers in the lower house of congress had voted in favor. It now goes to the Senate, where approval is expected.
Smoking pot has long been legal in Uruguay, but growing, carrying, buying or selling has called for prison terms. If the legislation is enacted, licensed adults will be able to have marijuana for any reason, including medicinal, recreational and industrial uses.
“Sometimes small countries do great things,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the U.S. 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 U.S. states, will want to consider – and a precedent that will embolden others to follow in their footsteps.”
The U.S. government, faced with its own legalization movement at the state level, such as in Colorado and Washington, largely stayed out of the Uruguayan debate, leaving people like Pope Francis to speak out against the “liberalization of drugs” during his recent trip to Brazil. It fell to the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board to criticize the vote in Uruguay as violating the country’s treaty obligations.