Uruguay legalises marijuana

2013-12-08 07:51

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Montevideo - Uruguay will write a piece of history next week when the small South American nation becomes the first country in the world to legalise marijuana, launching a social experiment as part of a broad strategy to combat drug trafficking.

The green light will come on Tuesday with a vote in the Senate. The lower chamber of Congress already passed the bill in August, and passage in the upper house is assured because the ruling leftist Broad Front coalition controls both.

The plan was unveiled a year and a half ago by President Jose Mujica along with other measures designed to halt crime and violence associated with the drug trade.

"This is an experiment", Mujica told AFP in August.

"We can make a real contribution to humanity. Be a testing ground with a series of measures to confront the problem and provide tools to fight drug addiction," he said.

The law will give the government control and regulatory power over imports, growing, harvesting, distribution and sales of pot and its derivatives.

After signing up, people 18 and older will be able to grow up to six marijuana plants, obtain the drug in marijuana smoking clubs and buy up to 40 grams a month in pharmacies.

But not everyone is thrilled by the idea of legalising marijuana. A poll carried out in September found 61% of those surveyed do not approve.

Neighbours Brazil and Argentina have expressed surprise, and questions have been raised over what the effect would be if such a law were passed in countries torn and bloodied by drug trafficking, such as Colombia and Mexico.

"There is not a lot of crime associated with the issue in Uruguay, so the change is not a major one. It is basically an experiment, but not an experiment that can be replicated easily" in larger countries, said Steven Dudley, co-director of the website InSightCrime, which specialises in drug trafficking in Latin America.

Uruguay frames the initiative as part of the stance of an international drug commission whose members include former presidents Cesar Gaviria of Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and which has concluded that the war on drugs has failed.

Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla who is now 78, reckons that his country spends around $80 million a year fighting drug trafficking and housing prisoners convicted of drug related crimes.

As the law stands now in Uruguay, consuming drugs is not illegal but selling them is. Pot is the most common of illegal drugs here and consumption of it has doubled in the past 10 years.

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