Uruguay House Passes Historic Marijuana Legalization Bill
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The Uruguayan lower house of parliament passed a bill that would create the world's first legal, regulated marijuana markets Wednesday night. The bill passed on a vote of 50-46 after nearly 12 hours of debate.
"Sometimes small countries do great things," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "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 US states, will want to consider -- and a precedent that will embolden others to follow in their footsteps."
Under the bill, the Uruguayan government would license producers, sellers, and consumers. Smokers would be limited to buying 40 grams a month. Unlicensed possession, cultivation, or sales would be criminal offenses, including prison time in some cases.
Registered users would be able to grow up to six plants, join a marijuana-growing collective, or purchase marijuana at a dispensary or pharmacy.
President Jose Mujica has been pushing the bill as a means of attacking black markets and organized crime by creating a legal, licensed marijuana marketplace. He first unveiled it nearly a year ago, but postponed voting at year's end to try to rally public support. A "Responsible Regulation" campaign including TV ads tried to sway the public in recent weeks, to little effect, and public opinion remained opposed to the measure.
But Mujica's Broad Front (Frente Amplio) coalition held a narrow 50-49 edge in the lower house, and parliamentary discipline prevailed. The bill will go before the upper house later this year. The Broad Front holds a bigger majority there, meaning the bill should pass if discipline continues to hold.
"The regulation is not meant to promote consumption, consumption already exists," lawmaker Sebastian Sabini, who helped draft the legislation, said at the beginning of the session.
The black market in marijuana "finances organized crime" and "marijuana use has doubled in the last 10 years," pro-legalization lawmakers added.
Opposition lawmakers were unimpressed with the arguments.
"We will not end the black market," warned National Party lawmaker Gerardo Amarilla. "Ninety-eight per cent of those who are today destroying themselves with base cocaine began with marijuana. I believe that we're risking too much. I have the sensation that we're playing with fire."
Richard Sander of the opposition Colorado Party played an anti-legalization video of ex-addict testimony, adding that the government plan was full of "ad-libbing."
But the opposition came to nought in the end, and now Uruguay is one step closer to becoming the first country in the world to have a legal, regulated marijuana market.