Uruguay votes yes to legalising marijuana

The unprecedented plan to create a legal marijuana market was approved by 50 of the 96 lawmakers present in the lower house of Congress just before midnight Wednesday after more than 13 hours of passionate debate. It now needs to pass through the Senate.

Legislators in the ruling coalition said legalising marijuana would help fight organised crime. They said putting the government at the center of a legal marijuana industry was worth trying because the global war on drugs had been a costly and bloody failure, and displacing illegal dealers through licensed sales could save money and lives.

They also hope to eliminate a legal contradiction in Uruguay, where it has been legal to use dagga but against the law to sell it, buy it, produce it or possess even one marijuana plant.

President Jose Mujica had postponed voting for six months to give supporters more time to rally public opinion. However, recent polls said two-thirds of Uruguayans remained opposed despite a "responsible regulation" campaign for the bill.

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 percent 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."

Activists
Dozens of pro-marijuana activists followed the debate from balconies overlooking the house floor, while others outside held signs and danced to reggae music.

"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 normalise the situation."

Mujica, for his part, said he never consumed marijuana, but that the regulations are necessary because many other people do. "Never in my life did I try it, nor do I have any idea what it is," he told the local radio station Carve.

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-think 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."

New legislation
Under the legislation, Uruguay's government would license growers, sellers and consumers, and update a confidential registry to keep people from buying more than 40 grams a month.

Carrying, growing or selling dagga 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, fostering enough marijuana production to drive out unlicensed dealers and draw a line between dagga smokers and users of harder drugs.

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" that is mass-produced by private companies.

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. –  Sapa-AP

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Sapa Ap
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