News item from ABC Australia
By North America correspondent Michael Vincent
Updated Wed 11 Dec 2013, 12:14pm AEDT
Uruguay has become the first country to legalise the production and sale of marijuana.
Under a ground-breaking new law, passed by the country's parliament on Tuesday, Uruguayans are permitted to grow the drug legally, or buy up to 40 grams per month from the government via pharmacies.
Private clubs for marijuana consumption will also be allowed, adding to citizens' existing rights to smoke it legally.
The law goes well beyond the marijuana legalization measures recently approved by the US states of Colorado and Washington, or the similarly liberal laws of the Netherlands and Spain.
Under Uruguay's proposed law, consumers over the age of 18 will be able to grow their own marijuana, though no more than six plants per person.
In every case, users must be registered with the government.
- Uruguay to become first country to legalise production and sale of marijuana
- Marijuana is already legalised for individual use in Uruguay
- Under new law, Uruguayans can grow the drug or buy up to 40g/month from the government
- Private clubs for marijuana consumption will be allowed
- Consumers over 18 can grow up to six plants
- Proposed law goes beyond measures approved by US states, or Netherlands and Spain
- Users must be registered with the government
The move is part of the government's push to be the nation's sole supplier of the drug - from seed to smoker.
"The war against drugs has failed," said Senator Roberto Conde as he presented the bill on behalf of the ruling leftist Broad Front, calling it an "unavoidable response" to that failure.
National campaigns have been running on television, as the South American country debated the issue for over a year.
Advertisements echo Senator Conde's sentiments, adding that drug use and violence have increased.
But not everyone supports the law, with widespread public scepticism and a September poll indicating that 61 per cent of Uruguayans disapprove.
National Party MP Veronica Alonso has been fighting the changes on the public stage.
"This doesn't solve the problem of drug trafficking because if you want to solve that problem then shortly we will be talking about legalising and regulating cocaine which is the most important market," she said.
However, Uruguay's president Jose Mujica wants to use market forces to undercut traffickers.
He says controlling the supply of marijuana and treating it like any other addiction will stop it becoming a gateway drug.
Drug users 'part of criminal cycle'
In a region where the war on drugs has claimed thousands of lives, the Uruguayan initiative has won the support of former Latin American presidents who served on the Global Commission on Drug Policy, but it is viewed with concern by neighbouring Argentina and Brazil.
The International Narcotics Control Board, which oversees the implementation of international treaties on drugs, has warned that it violates the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, adopted in 1961 by Uruguay and 185 other countries.
Dr Luis Gallo - who has been in medicine for 40 years - has been a key backer of the bill in the Senate.
"The consumer is currently part of a criminal cycle - be it organised crime or trafficking. That has had very grave social consequences for public security," he said.
Dr Gallo says there will be a national institute for the regulation of cannabis, which will be similar to the regulation of tobacco.
He also warns those who might want to indulge in what has been euphemistically called "ecological tourism".
"Brazilian citizens, Argentineans and any other foreign national, are prohibited from coming to Uruguay to consume," he said.
"Only our citizens will be authorised with proof of identity. No one else."
Marijuana users in Uruguay will ultimately have easier access, but they will also have surveillance, with each of their plants or monthly purchases monitored by authorities.
The bill, which passed the lower house of congress in August, was assured of passage in the senate because the ruling coalition controls both chambers.
See also - War on drugs - consequences of prohibition