Moral Low Ground


Uruguay Legalizes Cultivation, Sale and Use of Marijuana

Montevideo (Photo: Brett Wilkins)

Montevideo (Photo: Brett Wilkins)

Uruguay is set to become the first country in the world to legalize the growing, sale and recreational use of marijuana.

The Uruguayan Senate approved the world’s first national recreational marijuana marketplace on Tuesday, voting 16-13 to allow government regulation of the cultivation, distribution, sale and consumption of the plant, with the stated goal of eliminating the criminal element in the marijuana trade. The measure now awaits the signature of President José Mujica, who has expressed strong support for legalization.

Reuters reports legalization supporters rallied near the Uruguayan Congress in the capital Montevideo, some of them smoking joints and holding Jamaican flags in honor of reggae (and pot) legend Bob Marley. A large banner read, ‘Cultivating Freedom, Uruguay Grows.’

Under the new rules, Uruguayan residents ages 18 and older will be allowed to purchase up to 40 grams (1.4 oz) of marijuana each month from licensed pharmacies. All purchases will be monitored by the government. Uruguayans will also be permitted to grow as many as six cannabis plants per year in their homes.

The new system could go into effect as soon as next April.

“We begin a new experience in April,” Uruguay’s First Lady, Sen. Lucía Topolansky, told Reuters. “It involves a big cultural change that focuses on public health and the fight against drug trafficking.”

“Today is an historic day,” Sen. Constanza Moreira, who voted with the Broad Front majority, declared in the wake of the measure’s passage. “Many countries of Latin America, and many governments, will take this law as an example.”

But unlike other nations, where legalization drives have resulted from public support for marijuana use, the majority of Uruguayans are opposed to the government’s move. A recent opinion poll conducted by Equipos Consultores found that 58 percent of Uruguayans are against legalization.

Some opposition leaders voiced their concerns about the move.

“Competing with drug traffickers by offering marijuana at a lower price will just increase the market for a drug that has negative effects on public health,” insisted Sen. Alfredo Solari of the conservative Colorado Party.

But President Mujica disagrees. Seeking international support for his country’s legalization drive, he recently told the Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo that his efforts were a “socio-political experiment to address the serious problem of drug trafficking.”

“The effect of the drug traffic is worse than the drug,” Mujica insisted.

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