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Uruguay One Step Closer to Legalizing Marijuana

Uruguay's House of Representatives has approved a bill to legalize and regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana. If approved by the Senate and signed by President Jose Mujica, Uruguay would become the first country in the world to legalize marijuana.

Under the bill approved by the House, “the government would be allowed to sell marijuana,” as BBC News reported on August 1, 2013:

The state would assume “the control and regulation of the importation, exportation, plantation, cultivation, the harvest, the production, the acquisition, the storage, the commercialisation and the distribution of cannabis and its by-products”.

Buyers would have to be registered on a database and be over the age of 18. They would be able to buy up to 40g (1.4oz) per month in specially licensed pharmacies or grow up to six plants at home.

But the bill faces “fierce opposition”, as The Economist explained in a piece titled “The Experiment“:

A poll last month found 63% against, and opponents claim that consumption will rise. But its supporters argue that drug prohibition has caused more problems—in the form of organised crime and the risks of clandestine consumption—than the drugs themselves.

The Economist also published an article explaining the bill.

Photo shared by @CannabisMagazin on Twitter.

Photo shared by @CannabisMagazin on Twitter.

The debate started last year, when the Uruguayan government unveiled its plan to decriminalize the controlled sale of marijuana.

The debate has continued online, as citizens and analysts from Uruguay and abroad consider the implications of legalizing marijuana.

On Twitter, Seba Sánchez (@SebaSanchezuy) [es] referred to recent moves by Uruguayan lawmakers on abortion and same-sex marriage:

I remind you that you are part of a unique moment. Laws on abortion, same-sex marriage and marijuana. It happens here.

While Alejandro Figueredo (@afigue2010) [es] pointed out public opposition to the bill:

Something should be noted about those who push for and vote for the bill regulating marijuana. They cared very little about the peoples’ opinion.

Carlos Aloisio in the blog Razones y personas: repensando Uruguay [es] (Reasons and people: rethinking Uruguay), wrote that the regulation of marijuana is “a solution, not a panacea.” Carlos looked into the national debate over the bill and argued [es] that many Uruguayans don't support the bill because “it puts us in the uncomfortable situation of choosing between two evils”:

Por un lado, esto implica aceptar que tenemos un problema, y que estamos en la peor situación. Por otra parte, también implica reconocer que la regulación es una solución, pero está muy lejos de ser una panacea. La literatura internacional sobre el tema reconoce la ausencia de soluciones o recetas universales al problema, y admite de hecho que no hay diseños óptimos. La solución para Uruguay será algo que iremos descubriendo juntos a medida que ganemos conocimiento y experiencia en el problema. Pero, para hacer esta búsqueda posible, el primer paso es regular.

On the one hand, this means accepting that we have a problem, and that we are in the worst situation. On the other hand, it also means recognizing that regulation is a solution, but it is far from a panacea. The international literature on the subject recognizes the absence of universal solutions or prescriptions for the problem, and admits that indeed there are no optimal designs. The solution for Uruguay will be something that we will discover together as we gain knowledge and experience about the problem. But to make this search possible, the first step is to regulate.

In Asuntos del Sur [es], Chilean analyst Eduardo Vargas wrote about Uruguay's bill and what it means for drug legalization in the region. He concluded [es]:

El desafío para Uruguay es grande. Ser pionero no es fácil. Sin embargo, el éxito de esta política también depende del resto de América Latina. Urge que el resto de países inicien revisiones profundas a sus leyes de drogas y tomando la experiencia uruguaya, junto con la de los estados de Colorado y Washington, finalmente piensen, diseñen y ejecuten políticas de drogas más humanas, serias y responsables. Es el momento para que nuestra región se sume a la visión y pragmatismo que llevará al país de Pepe Mujica a liderar con responsabilidad, con una regulación responsable.

The challenge for Uruguay is great. Being a pioneer is not easy. However, the success of this policy also depends on the rest of Latin America. Other countries need to initiate major revisions to their drug laws taking into consideration the Uruguayan experience, along with that of Colorado and Washington states, to finally think, design and implement more humane, serious and responsible drug policies. It's time for our region to join the vision and pragmatism that will lead the country of Pepe Mujica to lead responsibly, with responsible regulation.

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