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 100.

    @69.CURTAINS 2012
    Nice to see that you obviously have no idea about the type of person that en joys getting stoned, they come from all walks of live and many are high achievers who just like to unwind at the end of the day with a vaporizer rather than a glass of wine.
    'How many people have died from marijuana? None.'
    Unfortunately that isn't true, weed has carcinogenics in it.

  • Comment number 99.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    The tax raised could be massive, isn't it more likely that the price will just be dropped to make it unprofitable for the gov and organized crime will just compete aggressively for the remaining market.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    I once asked a policeman: 'If your role is to protect and serve the public, yet you'll arrest me if I smoke cannabis, how am I being protected or served?'

    His response was: 'Because it's illegal'.

    I need not say any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I've never taken an illegal drug, however, I can see a huge opportunity for the government to take its share of the profits in taxation instead of it all going to the criminal elements.
    Some of the money collected could even go towards the user's / abuser's medical treatment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Don't expect any state in the US that has privatized prisons to legalize marijuana anytime soon. Companies like CCA spend millions on state congressional elections to make sure any bills that are contrary to its business model or profit structure never make it out of committee. You can thank Citizens United, because "they are people, too". Until they break the law of course, then they are not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    common sense at last, i smoke daily , like many of my friends. we are all normal professionals, solicitors, business managers, accountants etc. none of us have migrated onto hard narcotics after 20 odd years of smoking weed. we all say nothing if a peroson consumes a bottle of wine over a meal, or a pint with lunch. i prefer a joint of an evening. my choice, and i will continue too

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Should be legal. But the government taking full control over production and distribution is a big mistake that may turn the government itself into a cartel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    57.Global Yawning - Legalisation would be the same as 'homebrew' affecting wine & beer sales. You 'could' grow your own or buy from an unlicensed source but the vast majoirty of people can't be bothered with the hassle & would rather get legit, better quality product.

    Would you rather buy a decent bottle of wine from the shop or make some cheap plonk in your airing cupboard?

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    @CURTAINS 2012
    Drugging and zombifying the low drive types will enable us to keep them in suitable low grade housing allowing the rest of us to enjoy more space and do the more interesting things suited to our high drive lifestyle.


    I find people like you more destructive, this attitude of 'I need more despite already having enough' is everything that is wrong with this world!

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Now here is a RADICAL suggestion.

    Use the money at present spent on the Anti Drug Trafficking industry to provide free drug clinics, run by the Health Service (extra money to be made available).

    Would cost less than current anti drug spend.

    Drug traffickers priced out of the market.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    It makes me wonder how much longer the British tax payer will tolerate the millions spent persecuting otherwise law abiding citizens using cannabis in the UK ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    One by one, countries and states are finally succumbing to reason.
    "the fight against drugs and drug trafficking had failed"
    "the prohibition of certain drugs is creating more problems for society than the drugs themselves"
    "it will remove profits from drug dealers and divert users from harder drugs"
    Bravo Uruguay!
    Will other world leaders learn from the evidence?
    Duck! It's a flying pig!

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Unfortunately there will be no headway in this country until it is taken out of the hands of point scoring, vote orientated politicians. Successive chief medical officers have recommended at least some further study on the benefits of cannabis for medicinal use. Countries such as Portugal and Amsterdam prove that a certain level of legalisation benefits the population as a whole.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Having seen young lives wrecked by the pyschological problems caused by cannabis, I feel sorry about this decision and the impact it will have

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    If for no other reaso consider two very pertinent facts:

    It is much LESS dangerous than alocohl which we sell freely all over the country.....

    The tax that could be raised would be massive......

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Well done Uruguay, hopefully other countries will follow suit and legalise most illegal drugs. Let people take what they choose and the government can control the quality, supply and the taxes. They are going to take them anyway so you may as well make it as safe as possible for them and generate some tax from it at the same time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    @96 please read #46 & 42.

    As I'm sure you clearly know Cannabis is associated with students, what do students have, degrees. My best mate is a GP and consumes cannabis daily. You know why, he knows it doesn't do even half the damage of alcohol. Oh and as a GP he is prob earning more than most. Not bad for a druggy eh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    10 Minutes ago
    The harmful effects of cannabis are similar to alcohol.


    My boss's madder daughter told my wife that cannabis was harmless because it's a natural substance.

    This exemplifies the damage done to the brain by cannabis because alcohol is a natural substance too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    The benefits of legalising cannabis are many.Every teenager in the country knows where to buy it, so keeping it illegal seems illogical.
    If it was legally sold, young people would not have to meet the dodgy dealers and pushers. The government could pocket the tax, and they could print the health warnings on the packets.
    Look at prohibition in America......no real good came from it.


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