Uruguay MPs back marijuana legalisation bill

 
Supporters of the bill camp outside parliament in Montevideo Those supporting the bill want it passed quickly

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Members of Uruguay's House of Representatives have passed a bill to legalise marijuana.

If it goes on to be approved by the Senate, Uruguay will become the first country to regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana.

The measure is backed by the government of President Jose Mujica, who says it will remove profits from drug dealers and divert users from harder drugs.

Under the bill, only the government would be allowed to sell marijuana.

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.

Foreigners would be excluded from the measure.

Political tussle

The bill was approved by 50 of the 96 MPs present in the lower house following a fierce 13-hour debate in the capital, Montevideo.

The supporters of the measure argued that the fight against drugs and drug trafficking had failed, and the country needed "new alternatives".

"The regulation is not to promote consumption; consumption already exists," said Sebastian Sabini of the governing centre-left Frente Amplio (Broad Front) coalition, which has a majority of one in the lower house.

Analysis

If approved by the Senate as expected, this will become a groundbreaking law, but not only for Uruguay. For decades, drug trafficking has caused thousands of deaths throughout Latin America in countries like Mexico or Colombia.

Legalisation has long been taboo for governments who aligned with the US anti drug policy, heavily dependent on law enforcement and prohibition.

This is still considered the orthodox approach and it is supported by conservatives and the Catholic Church.

But more and more leaders, like Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina and former Mexican president Vicente Fox, are asking to discuss decriminalising some drugs in an attempt to undermine the cartels.

Marijuana use has reportedly doubled in Uruguay over the past year. An estimated 22 tonnes of marijuana are being sold in the country annually, according to Uruguay's National Drugs Committee.

But Gerardo Amarilla of the opposition National Party said the government was "playing with fire" given the health risks he said were linked to marijuana use.

All eyes were on Dario Perez, a member of the governing coalition but a strong opponent of the bill, whose vote could have scuppered the bill.

During his 20-minute speech, Mr Perez reiterated his belief that the issue should be put to a referendum and not have been "imposed" by the government.

But to applause by supporters of the bill in the public gallery, he finally concluded that as long as he was a member of the coalition, he would vote with it, despite his personal misgivings.

The bill is now expected to be approved by the Senate, where the left-wing government has a bigger majority.

But opposition politicians said that even if the law made it through the senate, they would launch a petition to have it overturned.

A survey carried out before the vote by polling organisation Cifra suggested 63% of Uruguayans opposed the bill.

Papal opposition

The progress of the bill is being watched closely across the region, says BBC Mundo correspondent in the region Ignacio de los Reyes.

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica on a visit to Cuba on 25 July 2013 President Jose Mujica says he has never tried marijuana but believes it should be legalised

For decades, drug trafficking has caused tens of thousands of deaths throughout Latin America.

Uruguay may have not experienced the bloodshed caused by drug trafficking, but the proposal could be seen as a test for violence-torn nations looking for an end to their drug wars, our correspondent adds.

The vote also comes just days after Pope Francis criticised drug legalisation plans during a visit to neighbouring Brazil.

The pontiff said it was "necessary to tackle the problems which are at the root of drug abuse, promoting more justice, educating the youth with the values that live in society, standing by those who face hardship and giving them hope for the future".

 

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  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 20.

    I hope Uruguay can show us all a good example, and pave the way for other countries to do the same, we are counting on you guys!

  • rate this
    -12

    Comment number 19.

    Here we go again...

  • rate this
    +115

    Comment number 18.

    All of the major problems caused by drugs;

    1) Money Laundering
    2) Purity of the drugs (affecting health issues)
    3) Giving power to criminal cartel's

    Would be eliminated with legilisation (or close enough)

    So hats off to Uruguay for actully debating such an immportant issue, and making a decision! something the UK never seems to be able to do!!

    Well Done Uruguay!

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 17.

    .

    It's only the pharmaceutical industry who are unhappy about this, they can't patent cannabinoids so have governments prohibit them!

    Well done Uraguay!

  • rate this
    -34

    Comment number 16.

    We, in the English speaking UK, call it cannabis. It would be nice if we didn't use fluffy Spanish words like marijuana. It shows nohting but ignorance.

  • rate this
    -50

    Comment number 15.

    Stoners are complete bores. It's all pot references and "You know Napoleon smoked pot?".

    Did he really? Well he did so well in the end didn't he?

  • rate this
    +43

    Comment number 14.

    Good - the current situation is madness.

    It seems that only two groups support the current criminalisation of marijuana - governments and drug dealers.

  • rate this
    +18

    Comment number 13.

    About time someone saw some sense, this so called war on drugs just makes it more profitable for the bad guys and of course the private prisons....well done Uruguay

  • rate this
    +65

    Comment number 12.

    6.
    WeirdAlex

    Portugal and THe Netherlands (outside Amsterdam) both saw a drop in drug comsumption when they legislatied the drug use in their country. Portugal especially was impressive with massive drop in Heroin and Crack Cocaine users.

    --------------------------------------------

    True. There was also a massive drop in drug-related crime in Portugal.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 10.

    I'm surprised the M.P.'s actually voted on the marijuana bill. I thought they'd just pay it.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 9.

    @ 2 Xor
    "I guess the major harm is that people may want to get a greater 'kick' out of drugs"

    And for some reason you think that does not happen now? I do not believe that for a moment. Making the drugs legal removes the criminal element. I would personally do this for ALL drugs as the current policy does not work. It would reduce crime and save lives. It has NO downside.

  • rate this
    +95

    Comment number 8.

    Oh look, another country with more common sense than us! Why oh why oh why are we simply not allowed this conversation here? It's constantly recommended by independant peer review and arrognatl shut down by succesive PM's under the grounds of 'our drugs policy is working'. News for you Dave, it isn't. Marajuana should be a seperate issue to the rest of the drug debate.

  • rate this
    -24

    Comment number 7.

    #1, unless Uruguay are introducing drugs driving legislation as well I would be careful. I'm not sure I'd want to drive my car where there are drivers exercising their "lawful" right to drive while stoned.

  • rate this
    +16

    Comment number 6.

    But German Cardoso of the opposition Colorado Party said that "in no country in the world has the consumption of drugs been reduced through legalisation".

    This is wrong. Portugal and THe Netherlands (outside Amsterdam) both saw a drop in drug comsumption when they legislatied the drug use in their country. Portugal especially was impressive with massive drop in Heroin and Crack Cocaine users.

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 5.

    People will always take drugs, so give control to the state. I remember once listening on radio to a copper talking about how they were winning "war on drugs". His measure, cocaine was getting more expensive and purity levels were going down. So people are paying more for snorting substances a whole range of substances they don't know. Hardly winning...

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 4.

    About time someone has seen sense.

  • rate this
    +73

    Comment number 3.

    Well done Uraguay, it's nice to see a government actually recognising that prohibition causes more problems than it solves.

    I wish our Gov would take it's head out of the sand on such matters, but i suspect all we'll get is the same lies and half-truths for the foreseeable future.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 2.

    Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and legalising it can bring tax for the government and bring more into the economy. I guess the major harm is that people may want to get a greater 'kick' out of drugs, and look for 'harder' drugs, which then cause health issues. As long as the govt can sort this issue out, it should be OK.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1.

    Will probably have to move to Uruguay now, the clincher will be if they legalize parking as well.

 

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