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 60.

    @39.Global Yawning
    'this stuff absolutely stinks!'
    So does the vomit on the street from a drunk + there will be less noise polution from drunks arguing.
    The police can use a saliva test to check for driving when stoned in a similar manner to breathalizing. Plenty of ppl already consume the weed, where are all these dope related accidents on roads, warehouses, building sites, etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Finally there is a goverment out there that has some common sense. This is a excellent platform just like Holland that will prove that smoking cannabis is not as others perceive it to be. I as well have smoked cannabis for 26 years and never once been tempted to take harder substances. I understand that under consecutive goverments I have broken the law ....I am a criminal :(...I am a "drug user"

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Even if the criminalisation policy was working (which some recent studies indicate that it actually is), the principle that individuals should not have a choice what they do to their own body is barbaric. Whether that be the use of alcohol, cocaine, tatoos...what a person does to their own body is their own business. A 'victimless crime' I believe is the phrase. So long as no one else is harmed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I assume at source this stuff is pretty much free, it grows out of the ground. With that in mind, how do the addicts on here come to the conclusion that legalisation will all but eliminate drug dealers? Surly all they will do is drop their prices and undercut what would be a massively taxed product. In much the same way as your DVD man used to, or file sharers do now online.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    "We can't do this. Society will collapse around our ears within weeks."

    Good job there's no such thing as society then!

    And I can't believe someone wrote reefer addict - they do know it's not the 50s anymore don't they?

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Decision makers in this country are so cowardly, pious and terrified of the CoE that they won't even allow citizens in perpetual torture and torment to decide how they die. They force them to live.

    How anyone believes they will allow people to get high is beyond me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Our money grabbing Government are missing out on a tax bonanza..... Prohibition has always put money into the pockets of the criminal class whilst the rest of us pick up the bill for policing -- this way madness lies. Legalise, educate and marginalise the criminals ... SIMPLES

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Bravo for the world It is time for the world to stop pushing the decent responsible people underground and making their daily activities illegal. They state that legislation has never reduced consumption. The aim is not to reduce consumption it is to stop criminalizing innocent people and putting the money in the hands of bad people. If the government really cared they would have banned alcohol

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    The harmful effects of cannabis are similar to alcohol. Whilst use should not be encouraged, the idea that the state should actively be involved with investigating and prosecuting those who choose to use such a substance is simply absurd, particularly when around half the population admits to having done so at some stage in their lives. Well done Uruguay!

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I have always thought it was hypocritical for alcohol to be legal while cannabis is not. I am a health care professional and have seen first hand the damage alcohol dependence can do. However I have never treated a single person for any illness caused by using cannabis.

    Lets hope Uruguay sets a good example to the rest of the world.

  • Comment number 50.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    9 wrote:
    "Making the drugs legal removes the criminal element."

    No it doesn't. Where there's money to be made, there will always be criminals abusing the law. That's the way it works in the Real World anyway.
    Cigarette smuggling is a case in point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    If alcohol and cigerettes are legal, what's the problem in regulating other drugs including marijuana?

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    As the late great Bill Hicks once said: "I loved when Bush came out and said, "We are losing the war against drugs." You know what that implies? There's a war being fought, and the people on drugs are winning it..."

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    The Netherlands has the lowest rates of cannabis use in Europe and one of the lowest rates of Class A use. Work that one out nay sayers.

    @39 it does smell but no more than a drunk in the local boozer.

    @42, here here. I too have a good degree, my own business, own my house outright and 2 wonderful children. I guess I must be a dirty druggie stoner with no prospects eh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    39.Global Yawning
    Got any more ridiculous stereotypes you want to peddle? Perhaps take a trip to Amsterdam and have a look at all the 'giggling, funny-faced stoners'. What you'll actually see is people smoking a joint over a coffee, reading a book or having a nice social chat the same as you get in the pub. It's this sort of Daily Mail thinking that stiffles the debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    It's readily available for recreational use in Colorado & Washington now & has been legal with prescription in 11 other states for years. Guess what? Society hasn't crumbled but it has produced an entire new LEGAL retail market worth BILLIONS to the US economy.

    Yet we choose keep that money in the hands of criminals & tie up police dealing with petty amounts of weed? Seems sensible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Finally economic common sense. The war on drugs PUTS money in the hands of those willing to break the law, and does nothing to encourage safe use, yet doesn't remove demand. This is the pragmatic, sensible way forward, and it should be adopted in the UK immediately.

  • Comment number 42.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    #36 I'm absolutely sure people drive under the influence of cannabis and other drug in UK, and attempts to control that are totally ineffective. I'm also sure that if cannabis was legalised, roads, warehouses, building sites, etc. etc. would become even more dangerous without some controls being applied.


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