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.


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

    Comment number 40.

    Probably better that the country benefits from the substance than a few gangsters. At bottom it would appear to be no worse than alcohol as a danger re the performance of Drs, Drivers etc for the public. Perhaps the law will come up with ways of dealing with being over the limit with the various ways of detecting levels of substances in the blood- like breath tests. Hope it works.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Health damaging or not, if you have ever lived with, or within the vicinity of a reffer addict, you will know this stuff absolutely stinks!

    If it is to be legalised they should be allocated smoking chambers where they can all giggle away to themselves whilst pulling that funny face they all do when they take a toke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.


    What nonsense. It's a criminal a offense to drive while "stoned" as you put it. The offense should still exist if marijuana was made legal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    From what I have seen, pot seems a far less insideous drug than alcohol. It seems to calm people down not make them violent and agressive.
    I see no issue with this compared to alcohol and tobacco.
    How many opponents of this have had their drug fix of strong coffee this morning I wonder?

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Glad to see thjat some goverments in the world have a bit of sense. Maybe ours will open up the debate, just think how much cash could be taken away from criminal gangs and raised through taxation and saved from police enforcement and jail costs.

    @7 If you think ppl don't get stoned and drive on UK roads, you are sadly deluded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    I guess they're legalizing it to get taxes from production and sale....imagine how much money they have already lost out on before this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Given the dreadful performance of this government since the election, I think this would be a disaster over here, with 90% of the population addicted to crack and heroin within weeks. Even the inevitable U-turn wouldn't save us. An expensive public inquiry would then blame the NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I think if faced with the choice of whom to meet in a dark alley, a bunch of drunks looking for a fight or a bunch of spliffers looking for biscuits, it's an easy choice to make.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Good on them! About time a government realised what was going on. Cannabis has never been a stepping stone drug, the fact is if you are going to try drugs you are going to try them, smoking a spliff will not make any difference to that. I have smoked it for 15 years and not once have I ever been tempted to try anything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    This is a good step forwards. But, the issue here is not so much the legalisation of Marijuana, as its nationalisation. If users have to register on a database and buy rationed supplies from the government, I don't think it's going to do much to curb requirements for illegal supplies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Although I don't do drugs, I think Marajuana should be legalized in this country. Legalized it, regulate it, tax it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Everything in moderation, they say. Maybe decriminalisation is the way forward worldwide and not just for cannabis; for alcohol and tobacco and other drugs perhaps, then if people want to abuse beyond their allowance (or prescription), so be it. At least it could help cut out the criminal element.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Just to give those who may be reading this and who have never smoked a joint in their lives a clue as to how much money we are currently sending into a criminal black hole... a decade ago an ounce of marajuana cost roughly £90. It's not uncommon now to see prices approaching £250 and the supply is greater than ever no matter what the politicians tell you (just trust us smokers on this point).

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    When are successive UK governments going to admit that the war on drugs is lost, a long time ago. Remove the criminality around drugs and tax them like fags and booze.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    They are legalising a plant that brings pleasure to it's users? They are crazy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    It is a really good idea as long as they don't sell it to train, bus, and car drivers, pilots, cyclists, pedestrians, doctors, nurses, tax collectors, parents, dentists etc etc etc. OMG that just leaves the children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I take it, you agree with people driving round drunk if you already live here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    It's an interesting experiment!

    The main argument against legalising marijuana has always been that it's a stepping stone to harder and more dangerous drugs. If Uruguay pass this legislation then it will give some hard facts for or against that claim.

    It will also be interesting to see if the dealers who are made superfluous by this start pushing drugs like of cocaine more aggressively instead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    The gateway to harder drugs starts with sugar, tobacco and alcohol, not marijuana.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    A sensible move. No one can win a war against drugs, so it's all about putting your resources in the most effective areas. One thing is for sure though, Uruguay's tourist industry will receive a boost from this decision.

    As for the Pope not approving, the catholic church has lost much of it's moral authority in the wake of countless child abuse stories, does it even matter what he says anymore?


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