Uruguay votes to legalise marijuana production


Uruguay's Senate voted to legalise marijuana Tuesday, becoming the first nation in the world to oversee its production and sale. "The war against drugs has failed," said one senator, calling the bill an "unavoidable response" to that failure.


Uruguay's Senate approved legislation legalising marijuana on Tuesday, becoming the first nation in the world to oversee the production and sale of the drug with a law that ultimately aims to combat addiction and drug violence.

Sixteen leftist senators of 29 voted in favour of the legislation, presented by the leftist ruling Broad Front and championed by President Jose Mujica, who will sign it into law.

"The war against drugs has failed," said Senator Roberto Conde as he presented the bill to Congress, calling the legislation an "unavoidable response" to that failure.

The bill authorises the production, distribution and sale of cannabis, all under state supervision, and allows individuals to grow their own on a small scale.

The bill passed the lower house of Congress in August and approval was expected because the ruling coalition controls both chambers.

Mujica, 78, a former leftist guerrilla fighter, has called the drugs plan an experiment.

"There are a lot of doubts and the doubts are legitimate," he told Channel 4 television before the vote.

"But doubts shouldn't paralyse us in trying new paths to deal with the problem that has gripped us," adding: "You have to give it a chance."

Opposition parties rejected the measure. Legalising cannabis will "diminish the perception of risk and foster consumption, especially among children and adolescents," said Senator Alfredo Solari of the opposition Colorado Party.

"Neither our government nor the rest of the world should experiment with Uruguayans," he said.

A dubious public

The bill goes well beyond the legalisation measures recently approved by the US states of Colorado and Washington, or the relatively liberal laws of the Netherlands and Spain.

Those over 18 will be able to grow up to six plants for individual use, acquire it from consumer clubs or buy up to 40 grams per month from pharmacies. In each case they must register with the government.

Conde said the law strikes a balance between individual liberty and public health, while also tackling what he called the "grotesque juridical inconsistency" of current laws, under which marijuana consumption is not penalised but its production and sale is.

But there remains widespread public scepticism in the country of 3.3 million people, with a September poll finding that 61 percent disapprove of the law.

Some predict that the law will not reduce the use of more dangerous drugs, with others saying that legalisation trivialises marijuana's harmful effects.

In part to combat such criticism, the government has sponsored a public service campaign bearing the slogan, "All drug consumption has risks."

Conde said the law seeks to address what is already an entrenched social reality.
"Marijuana is the illegal drug that is most consumed, fundamentally by young people, one that is perceived as extremely low risk and is easily obtained," he said.

Consumption of cannabis has doubled in the country over the past decade and now accounts for 70 percent of illegal drug consumption.

In a region where drugs and cartel violence have claimed thousands of lives, the Uruguayan initiative won the support of several former Latin American presidents who served on the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

But the International Narcotics Control Board, which oversees the implementation of international treaties on drugs, has warned that the new law violates the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, to which Uruguay is a signatory.

Not all users were in favour of the new law, either, with some angry at the government controls it imposes.

"It's invasive, because it is not up to the government to determine how much marijuana can be consumed and the quality," said Alicia Castilla, author of a book entitled "Cannabis Culture" and who once served three months in prison for growing the drug at home.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)


Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning